SD Lawmakers debate stricter approach to ballot measures

After the state approved an initiated measure related to medical marijuana, and a constitutional amendment related to recreational marijuana, legislators are attempting to alter those processes for future elections.
As the dust settles on this year's state elections, many are beginning to analyze the results...
(Dakota News Now)
Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 10:32 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - With the constitutionality of Amendment A in question, Republican lawmakers in Pierre are working to change the process by which initiated measures and constitutional amendments are brought about.

Despite becoming the first state in the country to allow its citizens to propose and vote on laws, there has been much push and pull in relation to the validity of more recent ballot measures. Legislators have brought forth bills this legislative session having to do with everything from how the South Dakota Attorney General reviews measures, to the font size to be used when writing them.

“This is now the third cycle in a row where we finished an election, and in a couple of months one of the things that passed on the ballot was being challenged in court,” says State Rep. Will Mortenson (R-Pierre). “So a few of us got together and said this isn’t healthy, this doesn’t inspire confidence in this ballot measure system, and how can we fix it.”

Mortenson is a sponsor of SB 86, which would require a “review period” of initiated amendments by the South Dakota Secretary of State, who could determine whether or not that amendment was constitutional, and thus if it could be placed on the ballot.

The State House also voted overwhelmingly to pass HJR 5003 Tuesday, which would require ballot measures raising state taxes or requiring more than $10 million in state funds have 3/5ths of the electorate to pass.

Democrats in the legislature say this sort of legislation is knee jerk, and that the current process to get something on the ballot works just fine, when it is allowed to.

“People like the initiated measures process, they like the ability to have a say in those things,” says State Rep. Ryan Cwach (D-Yankton). “I think the bills we are seeing the session are just an effort to get politicians to insert themselves in that process.”

Secretary of State Steve Barnett points out that as it currently stands, it isn’t exactly easy to get an initiated measure or a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

For the 2020 election, to get an amendment on the ballot required almost 34,000 signatures. That’s over 5% of the state’s electorate. Initiated measures required about half of that.

Advocacy groups for Amendment A collected over 50,000 signatures.

“Its a thorough process, you have the Legislative Research Council weighing in, we verify all the signatures, the Attorney General writes up an explanation, people can read up on the ballot questions,” said Sec. Steve Barnett (R-South Dakota).

“No one is really considering the question of is this a proper way to amend the constitution under our constitution,” says Mortenson. “We didn’t really have anyone looking at that on the front end, we didn’t have the ability for anyone to challenge if it was single subject or not beforehand, so now we wind up in the mess we are in now with Amendment A.”

To read more about the bills dealing with initiated/ballot measures, click here.

To read more about the bills dealing with constitutional amendments, click here.

To read bills related to voting, click here.

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