…High School Debate Judges to the Rescue?
The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce isn’t fooled by Lisa Furlong’s outright lies about Amendment U in the official ballot question pamphlet. Neither are several other civic-minded South Dakotans, including, most importantly, the League of Women Voters of South Dakota.
LWV president Judy Hall, backed with comments from opponents of the fake payday lending rate cap and an Augustana ethics professor, says Amendment U sponsor Lisa Furlong’s official statement on the payday lending measure is so misleading that it warrants reform of how the Secretary of State compiles the ballot question pamphlet:
“It is not a ‘strict’ 18% cap. Amendment U supporters have misled the voters,” says retired nurse Mary Ihli. “The average payday loan in South Dakota has a 574% APR. Their amendment does not change that. As a South Dakotan, I think this is wrong to mislead the public and target our South Dakota poor.”
“The claims in the pamphlet for Amendment U are scandalous,” says Dr. Stephen Minister, ethics professor at Augustana University. “It’s unethical to mislead the voters to think it does the opposite of what it would actually do. It’s also unfair to the voters to have misleading statements come through an office of state government.”
Presentation Sister Gabriella Crowley says, “It’s just not right to mislead voters like this. Their 18% would not apply to any agreement with a signature. All those loans have signatures. That means it’s a fake 18%. What we need is a real 36% limit, not a fake 18%.”
Cathy Brechtelsbauer of Bread for the World -South Dakota, says, “The description claims it protects families, when in reality, Amendment U protects the payday lenders from ever having rate limits.”
Judy Hall, President of The League of Women Voters of South Dakota believes that all information put before the voters by the South Dakota Government should be truthful. Misleading statements found in the pro statement on Amendment U are a disservice to all South Dakotans. Safeguards should be put in place to ensure that pro and con statements on the ballot questions are honest. If it is not possible to ensure the correctness of the statements, then they should be eliminated from the election pamphlet [Judy Hall, League of Women Voters of South Dakota, press release, 2016.09.09].
As the sponsor of two referrals and author of the Con statement on Referred Law 19, I support the state’s continued publication of proponent and opponent statements. Given that an effective statewide media campaign probably costs six figures, this one public pamphlet gives low-budget campaigns one opportunity to compete on an equal footing with big-budget campaigners like Rod Aycox, Henry T. Nicholas, and the Koch Brothers. Lisa Furlong’s big-money minders would probably love to see the state stop offering low-budget competitors the opportunity to get their message out in one state-funded public election document.
As a high school debate judge, I’m comfortable with the state’s providing an equal forum for both sides to offer their best arguments and trusting the voters to weigh those statements side by side and choose the stronger argument.
My debate background inclines me toward two debate-related solutions that might address the League of Women’s Voters’ concerns.
First, include rebuttals in the ballot question pamphlet. Ask proponents and opponents to submit their 300-word statements by July 21. Send proponent statements to opponents and vice versa, and allow the competing parties to submit 150-word responses to each others’ statements by July 31.
Second, convene a panel of the best debate judges in the state to review the proponent and opponent statements and rebuttals. South Dakota’s debate judges spend every winter weekend (not to mention lots of class time throughout the school year and the summer) critically evaluating the merits of logic, evidence, and rhetorical devices without imposing their own political or philosophical biases. Ask these debate judges to evaluate the accuracy of statements and logical validity of arguments offered by both sides. Instead of bogging down in a constant cycle of revision, simply post the debate judges panel’s assessment of each statement alongside the Pro and Con statements. Knowing that they will face such rigorous evaluation from committed, unbiased experts, proponents and opponents alike would strive to write factually and logically impeccable statements for the ballot question pamphlet.
The solution to liars like Lisa Furlong is not less information. The solution is more information, subjected to rigorous review by the trustworthy experts of South Dakota’s debate community.