South Dakota - Secretary of State's Office still counting disputed signatures on the smoking ban petitions..

July 16, 2009 - The Legislature earlier this year passed a ban on smoking in virtually all public places. It was to have gone into effect July 1, but opponents of the ban in late June filed petitions with an estimated 25,000 signatures to block the ban and force a vote. They needed 16,776 valid signatures to trigger the vote.

Earlier this month, however, a coalition of health advocates challenged almost 10,000 of the signatures. They identified about 25 flaws with the signatures, including the listing of unregistered voters, improper notarization, duplicate signatures and incomplete information.

Secretary of State Chris Nelson and three workers are checking the validity of 9,891 signatures on petitions that would force a 2010 vote on banning smoking in South Dakota bars and restaurants. On Wednesday, July 15th Nelson wouldn't speculate on when the job will be done or comment on how many signatures have been invalidated so far. State workers are about 40 percent of the way through a list of disputed signatures on the smoking ban petitions. Nelson said, "This is a very tedious process."

If the challenge is successful, Nelson said he assumes smoking in bars and restaurants across the state will become illegal. Nelson: "Hypothetically, the law would go into effect immediately." He added that he and Attorney General Larry Long would have to decide exactly how to implement the law if the challenge is successful. "This is unchartered territory, and we are not sure how things will unfold," Nelson said.

If the challenge is successful, opponents of the ban still could delay it by filing a lawsuit, Nelson said. Larry Mann, who coordinated the petition drive, said he isn't sure whether his group would go to court. "I have met with clients, and we have said we will probably need to think about what our next step might be, but right now we are waiting," he said.

Darrin Smith, a senior director for the American Heart Association and a steering committee member for the South Dakota Tobacco Free Kids Network, said his group is waiting to hear how many signatures are tossed out. Depending on that decision, we'll see where we're at and go from there. He added that his group has not discussed filing a lawsuit.

Reference: Petition challenge creates 'tedious process' for state Verification task 40 percent done, Meredith Moriak,, 7/16/2009.

Related news briefs: South Dakota - anti-smoking leaders challenge petition..; South Dakota - smoking ban to start July 1, 2009 may be delayed..; South Dakota - opponents try to stop extended smoking ban..; South Dakota - extends smoking ban effective July 1, 2009...