History seems to mitigate against synergy between ballot measures and partisan candidates’ fortunes. Even when we led the nation in putting initiative and referendum into our state constitution, we South Dakotans have not connected ballot measures with the candidates and parties who support them.
In the 1890s, South Dakota’s Populist Party pushed Father Robert Haire’s proposal to write initiative and referendum into our constitution. In 1896, the Populists linked up with Democrats and Free Silver Republicans to form the Fusion Party, which won a majority in the Legislature. That majority put initiative and referendum on the 1898 ballot.
In the election that fall, voters rejected all [statewide] Populist candidates except Governor Lee (who won by only 370 votes) but approved the direct legislation amendment by a vote of 23,816 to 16,483. The amendment carried in all parts of the state—in the corn and wheat belts, and in the mining and ranching areas. Of the fifty-nine counties listed as registering votes, only nine—Aurora, Bon Homme, Campbell, Faulk, Gregory, Hutchinson, Marshall, Turner, and Yankton—had majorities against the amendment. The largest bloc in opposition came from four counties (Bon Homme, Hutchinson, Turner, and Yankton) clustered in the southeast comer of the state. The “city” vote in South Dakota also seemed to support the amendment. Yankton County (Yankton) voted 58 percent against the amendment, but Brown County (Aberdeen) and Minnehaha County (Sioux Falls) voted 57 percent and 66 percent respectively for approval [Steven L. Lott, “The Origins of the Initiative and Referendum in South Dakota: The Political Context,” Great Plains Quarterly, 1992, paper 674, p. 190].
Republicans, who refused to endorse initiative and referendum in 1898, took back majorities in both the Senate and the House in Pierre. Populists, who pushed a direct democracy measure that won 59% approval, lost two seats in the Senate and fifteen seats in the House.
It seems baked into the historical South Dakota DNA of initiative and referendum that candidates who back direct democracy will boost their own electoral fortunes.