PIERRE | The Legislature will be asked to strengthen South Dakota’s election laws regarding candidate-petition signatures, which made headlines several times last year.

One major change calls for signatures to be spot-checked on candidate petitions for statewide offices, similar to the process already used for statewide ballot measures.

On Monday, the state Board of Elections and Secretary of State Shantel Krebs endorsed the proposal.

They plan to submit legislation for consideration in the 2015 session that opens Jan. 13.

Their proposal calls for checking the validity of a random sample of 5 percent of the signatures on a petition.

A would-be candidate found to have insufficient valid signatures after the spot check could appeal that adverse finding to circuit court.

Currently the secretary of state doesn’t have authority to check whether the signatures come from actual registered voters from the counties they show on the petitions.

Petition challenges instead have come from citizens to be decided in circuit courts and sometimes result in criminal charges from the state attorney general.

Several sets of petitions came under scrutiny in South Dakota’s U.S. Senate contest last year.

One would-be candidate, Clayton Walker, was kept off the ballot. Another candidate, Annette Bosworth, was allowed to run in the Republican primary.

Both were eventually charged with perjury for petition violations.

Changes to state election laws need to be made during the 2015 session of the Legislature so they are in effect for the 2016 election cycle.

The spot checks wouldn’t apply to candidate petitions for legislative seats.

Another proposal endorsed Monday takes aim at special treatment of candidate petitions sent by registered mail before the filing deadline.

The practice for some time has been to accept petitions that arrive late if they were post-marked before the deadline.

The new proposal would require the petitions to be in before the deadline. It would become illegal to accept a petition that is late regardless of the method of delivery.

Drew Duncan, a state Board of Elections member from Sioux Falls, called for the registered-mail provision to be removed throughout the state election code.

“I understand that’s a sea change,” Duncan said.

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He received unanimous support.

“That would solve a lot of problems,” said another board member, Deuel County Auditor Pam Lynde of Clear Lake. 

Last month the board called for another change, proposed by Krebs, that would allow candidates to circulate nomination petitions for voters’ signatures one month earlier, starting on Dec. 1.

The circulating period also would end one month earlier, on the last Tuesday in February.

That would allow more time for challenges to be made about the validity of petitions.

A related proposal would expand the period when challenges could be made in circuit court, with a proposed new deadline of the second Tuesday in March.

A challenge to Bosworth’s petition was attempted last spring but couldn’t be completed. State Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, didn’t get legal notice served in time before primary election ballots had to be printed.

The printing deadline is based on the starting date for absentee voting, and that is based on providing adequate time for military and overseas voting.

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