Policy change limits petition circulators on Minnehaha County campus

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 6:01 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The Minnehaha County Commission voted unanimously to approve changes to it’s public use policy that would restrict political activity at the county administration building and courthouse to two designated zones.

The changes to the policy were brought to the commission by County Auditor Leah Anderson, who asked the body to approve the changes on the grounds of having better control over where political activity can take place on campus. In her request, Anderson said this request comes from concerns that petition circulators are causing traffic concerns inside county buildings, and the county must accommodate everyone looking to do business, “without any unnecessary delay or inconvenience.”

The commission voted unanimously to adopt the changes. Political and activity, including circulating petitions, can now only be done in two designated zones. The first is below the main steps outside the south doors of the county courthouse. The other location is 25 feet outside the west entrance of the county administration building.

Commissioner Joe Kippley said he was skeptical of the changes at first, and they needed to take the proposal seriously. But after reviewing the changes, he said the commission is confident that they will work as advertised.

“So I think we have to start off in a position of kind of being skeptical of any restrictions on any political speech or political activity. So you want to take a close look at any types of proposed changes,” Kippley said. “But I think these were very reasonable changes that would kind of fall into the classic what we’d call time, place, and manner restrictions. So just during the workday, so the time restriction of while other county business is going on, in that location, that place, and in that manner.”

Kippley agreed that these changes are meant to separate political activity from other business at the two buildings, while still allowing people to make their voices heard. The policy does not affect planned protests at the courthouse or administration building. That permit process done through the Sioux Falls Police Department is not affected by these changes.

“We just don’t want people accosting one another, or the safety risks of being in a parking lot where vehicles are going around So a lot of safety concerns, and just time, place, and manner concerns around the courthouse,” Kippley said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t come down to the Treasurer’s office and renew their license plates, or do just their public business. So getting some of the political activity, it’s mainly petitions and signatures is what we’re talking about. We don’t want to dissuade those petition signatures.”

Those changes though are raising concerns for organizations that frequently participate in petition circulating. Dakotans for Health is one of those groups. The organization said in a statement to Dakota News Now that the change is an act of voter suppression and will affect voter engagement in the ballot initiative process.

“South Dakota has a rich history of citizens petitioning their government and the Minnehaha County Auditor just made that more difficult. This is voter suppression and another attack on direct democracy.” Dakotans for Health Co-Founder Rick Weiland said.

Kippley said the changes aren’t meant to be a limit on people’s First Amendment rights to petition and speech, rather a solution to a human traffic issue and allowing everyone the chance to do business at county buildings.

“I don’t care, it doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with you. You have a right to be there. But we’re just giving a location that is going to be less disruptive that you can still engage in your political activity, good, bad or otherwise.” Kippley said.