Bolin Wants Fewer Urban, More Rural Signatures on Initiative Petitions

With South Dakota voters successfully placing a whole passel of good democratic measures on the 2016 ballot, Republicans naturally want to continue their assault on South Dakotans’ constitutional right to legislate via initiative and referendum. Last year Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) showed his loathing of democracy by trying to double the signatures necessary to place measures on the ballot. This year, Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) is trying to force petition circulators to spend less time in Sioux Falls and Rapid City and more time everywhere else:

Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, said he plans to bring a bill that would limit the number of signatures that come from the state’s three largest counties by population, Lincoln, Minnehaha and Pennington, to no more than 50 percent of the signatures obtained. The remaining 50 would have to come from the state’s other 63 counties.

The three counties account for about 40 percent of the state’s population according to the most recent U.S. Census data [Dana Ferguson, “Lawmaker: Initiated Measures Require Broader Support,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.01.06].

Apparently half of the 24 states with initiative laws require some sort of geographical distribution of signatures. Some geographical distribution rules for initiative petitions have been ruled unconstitutional for violating equal protection of urban residents right to vote and petition. Don Frankenfeld, one of the sponsors of Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act, warns his fellow Republican Bolin of just such a problem:

“An otherwise qualified voter from Minnehaha should not be disqualified from signing a petition,” Frankenfeld said. “In general, I support measures that expand the democratic franchise, not measures that constrain it” [Ferguson, 2016.01.06].

Bolin’s proposal may also disenfranchise racial minority voters:

Considering America’s troubled history with disenfranchising minority voters, it seems like common sense to—at all costs—avoid limiting the power of voters in counties with higher-than-average minority populations. And yet, Rep. Jim Bolin (R-Canton) has proposed exactly this, saying he would introduce a bill that would stop South Dakota’s three most populous counties (Minnehaha, Lincoln, and Pennington) from counting for more than 50% of signatures on an initiated measure. These three counties make up 40% of South Dakota’s population, but 67% of South Dakotans who are African-American and black live in them. Additionally, 49% of Asian South Dakotans and 49% of Hispanic or Latino South Dakotans live in these three counties. While Native Americans have historically been the group most at risk of disenfranchisement in South Dakota, only 21% of Native Americans live in these three counties, so the Representative managed to dodge that bullet.

South Dakota is overwhelmingly white, which means special care must be taken to respect the rights of minority voters [Berk Ehrmantraut, “Rep. Bolin’s Bill Could Seriously Harm Black Voters’ Ability to Sign Petitions,” The Dakota Post, 2016.01.08].

Rep. Bolin may also open up a can or rural-versus-urban worms on other representational issues. Right now, the three largest counties can control 15 out of 35 Legislative districts. Bills can pass the Legislature right now with 70% or 80% of their support coming from Minnehaha, Lincoln, and Pennington counties. With Sioux Falls and Rapid City growing faster than the rest of the state, we could in our lifetimes see those three counties each add one Legislative district, which would mean those three counties could hold a majority in the Legislature and pass bills without any rural support. Since initiatives are the legislative process practiced at large, would Rep. Bolin be willing to apply the same geographical distribution requirement to votes under the Dome: bills may pass the Legislature only if they receive at least 50% of their support from districts outside the big three counties?

And if legislative decisions must have balanced rural-urban support, why not elected officials? If Rep. Bolin is a man of principle, shouldn’t he also propose that statewide candidates must get 50% of their petition signatures and 50% of their votes from Aberdeen, Brookings, Yankton, and all points smaller?

Rep. Bolin is a thoughtful dude, and I’m sure he’ll think through these issues before filing his bill. But let’s watch to see if we get a bill really seeking to discuss the rural-urban divide in all South Dakota politics or just another Republican attack on the initiative process that Republicans find so annoying.

41 Responses to Bolin Wants Fewer Urban, More Rural Signatures on Initiative Petitions

  1. barry freed

    So, no article about Obama’s Town Hall?

  2. Did he do a town hall on South Dakota ballot initiatives?

  3. owen reitzel

    Bolin doesn’t have a clue. I don’t think legally he can do that.
    Actually this guy is scary.

  4. owen reitzel

    Actually Barry I think Cory should have a post about the NRA being to scared to join the Town Hall.
    Sorry Cory. I know-off topic

  5. Donald Pay

    This another elitist idea that gets recycled periodically to hamper ballot issues. I’ve seen similar ideas brought up three times–in the 80s, 90s and now. The 00s brought a lot of other “deforms” of the petitioning process for citizens, but, as we have seen, most of the problems in petitioning have come from legislators and elitist pay for signature operations. Maybe that’s were Bolin should focus his efforts.

    Specifically, let’s deal with “his” idea, which I’m sure has origins in the bowels of one of the elite lobbying groups in Pierre. I’ll bet the lobbyists are lined up to support this one. If he does bring this in bill form, as he seems to indicate, it runs contrary to the clear intent of the South Dakota Constitution, so he would have to have a Joint Resolution to amend the South Dakota Constitution, and people would get to vote on it.

  6. Any insight into how Sec of State would go about certifying petitions under this new criteria?

  7. Roger Cornelius

    That was my first thought too, that could be a nightmare trying to determine what signatures belonged where.
    Even the process of collecting signatures could easily allow for multiple errors, maybe that is Bolin’s real plan.

  8. Eve Fisher

    Well, a least we know what man does NOT want to know our will or have our vote: Rep. Jim Bolin, Canton. I’ll definitely remember this should he ever decide to run for statewide office…

  9. Folks, the urban – rural divide is here in SD, it’s about 2 generations behind that found in that urban state, Minnesota. In Minnesota the 5-7 metro counties control the direct vote – no question. The rural counties depopulated their farms, businesses, and then mainstreets and schools by chasing flawed economic models. Already in South Dakota the voters on the interstate cooridors run the state – there is no reason to campaign in the empty counties – despite their high rate, yet predictable voting. In 14 years, maybe 19 years a candidate will only have to campaign in Sioux Falls and Rapid City to win a state office.

  10. Most of Minnesota’s land mass votes RED RED RED. We should trade Minnehaha and Lincoln counties for all of Minny except Hennepin, Ramsey, ironically Dakota counties.

  11. Oh, Minny can keep St. Louis county too, where the neo-hipsters hang out.

  12. Tell Bolin he can win there.

  13. Young Mr. Bolin is a teacher who is crusading against the common cores as his main objectives. I suspect he will turn his attention back to that after toying with these items but at one time I am told he had statewide election plans. This could all be to position him for that next election.

  14. MTR, that’s an interesting technical question. We could do it with petitions as is. Signers print and sign their name and provide their address and county of registration. The secretary would simply need to count up all the counties listed and make sure that at least 50% come from counties other than the 3 on Bolin’s target list. the question becomes whether we allow the Secretary to use the same 5% sample to ensure that we met the geographical distribution requirement, or if we would require the Secretary to count every petition line to verify that indeed 50% of all of the signatures on the petition come from non-big counties

  15. Maybe besides just handing in boxes of papers to the state secretary, those papers could have a check box that said “Minnehaha, Pennington, Coddington” or as called by the secretary, the MPC box. This box would have to be checked by the signer. The 5% sampling would include verification of the accuracy of the box checking.

    Then, the entire shoeboxes of papers could be fed through a machine that would scan them onto the internet AND count the boxes so the percentage of total urbanites would be known but the percentage checked could stay at 5%. Allowing the state secretary to adhere to Mr. H’s schedule for completing the petitions.

  16. Bob Newland

    Grudznick continues to add to the evidence that he or she is a POS.

  17. mike from iowa

    Tell wingnuts they can’t raise more than 50 % of their campaign cash in the 3 biggest counties.

  18. Bob, just because I have good ideas is no reason for you to remain so irked. The demon weed does that to you, I know, so I don’t hold it against you.

  19. Grudz,

    Are you two meeting up for breakfast again tomorrow? Where do you and Bob usually go provided he has a ride?

  20. My friend Bob lives in Fall River county now, Ms. Lynn. A distance away, I am afraid, but fortunately not one of the counties affected by Mr. Bolin’s proposals.

    Bob can drive but needs a car and I have a car but need a ride, so we’re a bit like the couple where one has the pipe and the other has the ‘bacca. Talley’s Silver Spoon was where most of the good breakfast debates took place, before Bob took a dislike to breakfast, and sometimes a trip to places like the Sugar Shack or the Campbell Street Cafe. Oh, for the breakfast days again…

  21. There seems to be no end to the rage of the GOP over the peasants having influence in ‘their’ politics , does there??! Arrogance of ‘self-perceived’ power, it is!

  22. Mr. Jake, I am more raged, raging, whatever you libbies call it these days, over the urban yuppies with the cheese and fancy wine parties trying to pretend they know what is best for everybody. Let me tell you, Jake, I know what is best for everybody.

  23. We’ll have to see the specifics of the bill. I’m guessing the notion that 40% shouldn’t dictating to the 60% wouldn’t translate to opt out measures.

  24. I was not able to talk to Mr. Bolin but I am pretty sure his notions are valid.

  25. drey samuelson

    If there is a public policy rationale for valuing signatures from folks who live in more rural counties than from folks who live in more urban counties, I’ve yet to hear it. This is one of the more bonehead proposals I’ve heard in a while, and that’s no small statement.

  26. Jon Holmdal

    Oh–it is just them trying to protect their power —their pure corruptness–they do not want anything close to fair–and that is what will take them down—

  27. Drey’s on the right track—we need to see the state;s compelling reason for this move, which would treat legislation initiated by citizens differently from legislation initiated by legislators. Consider that a bill can come to a vote in Pierre simply by having one sponsor, who can be from any district, rural or urban. If there are no geographical requirements for passing bills in Pierre, there should be no such requirements for passing bills by popular vote.

    Absent any rationale for this additional obstacle to I&R, Bolin’s proposal is exactly what Jon says, one more play to protect the current Legislative majority’s power.

  28. Were we to enact Bolin’s proposal, it would give us all the more reason to enact electronic petitioning. Doing the geographical check would be a snap for both the Secretary and the petitioners. If I were circulating a petition under the Bolin rule, I would want some kind of accounting system that could tell me when I’ve maxed out on Sioux Falls signatures and should dispatch all of my circulators to Aberdeen, Watertown, and Brookings.

    Oh, but even then, circulators would have to bother people with more questions before signing (“Are you from Sioux Falls? Oh, you? Sorry, we already have too many signatures from there, so your signature doesn’t count.”).

  29. Roger Elgersma

    No one is restricted from getting a petition or signing it or circulating it. All have equal chance. When it gets to the ballot box every ballot no matter where you live will have all the initiatives on it. Everyone will have equal chance to vote for or against it. Everyones vote will count equally.

  30. …as should every voter’s signature on a petition.

  31. I guess it’s kind of like majority rule.
    You have to be for the majority rule then, Mr. H. No more whining about the Libbies not getting their say.

  32. Grudz, you know I’m all about direct democracy and majority rule with protection of minority rights. Rep. Bolin has not yet established that the folks who live outside of the Sioux Falls and Rapid City metro areas constitute a minority requiring protection. If Rep. Bolin does establish such a protected-minority status for those folks, then he’s going to have to apply that status consistently to all legislative and electoral matters…

    …which gets me thinking: would Bolin have a stronger case for his signature-distribution scheme if he said that petitions (and legislation, and statewide candidate elections) must obtain a certain level of support from American Indian voters?

  33. It’s all about quotas, Mr. H, and affirmative action for rural folks. AARF.

  34. mike from iowa

    It is and always has been about voter suppression of perceived liberal voting blocks.

  35. If the bill is filed the Sec of States opinion becomes paramount. If the bill says only 50% from the three counties then all signatures would need to be counted, putting a burden on the Sec office.

  36. is this the best the Republicams have in Lincoln county.

  37. I am told this fellow, Mr. Bolin, was at one time a teacher near the top of the Seven Indisputable Levels of Teachers.

  38. mike from iowa

    Is Bolin talking 50% of the total signatures or 50% of the minimum valid signatures to get on the ballot?

  39. St. Rep. Bollen may not like it when the larger counties dominate petition signature drives, but he sure likes it when the larger counties raise most of the state’s sales tax revenues for all of the states residents and boards to use, however….

    If the petition drives are to be proportional to the electoral demographics of the state, then maybe the state’s sales tax revenues should be handed-out proportionally to where they were initially raised, too…..?…… What do you think of that Jim?

  40. Mike, we’ll have to wait until we see the actual bill language, but I would assume he means 50% of the minimum valid signatures. For an initiated law or referred law, which requires 13,871 valid petition signatures, one could apply no more than 6,935 signatures from the three big counties. The other 6,936 would have to come from elsewhere.

    Conceivably, Secretary Krebs could certify the geographic distribution from the 5% random sample.

  41. Neo-hippster is redundant grdz. As are all your trolling comments.

    Peasants, feasants, pheasant hunting. Demurral. The liberties taken here. My my:)