Republicans expand their war on people power with Senate Bill 67, which would effectively double the number of signatures we citizens need to put constitutional amendments to a public vote.
Under current law, putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires collecting petition signatures equal to at least 10% of the number of votes cast for Governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. 277,403 South Dakotans voted for Governor in 2014; thus, in the 2016 cycle, that number was 27,741.
SB 67 changes the signature criterion from participating voters to registered voters. In 2014, 521,041 South Dakotans were registered to vote; thus, SB 67 would raise the signature requirement to 52,105, nearly 88% more signatures.
Republicans, including Governor Dennis Daugaard, have complained that big-money out-of-state interests can too easily get bogus measures on our ballot. However, of all the constitutional measures proposed by citizens in the 2016 cycle, the only two measures that garnered enough signatures to beat the SB 67 threshold were the two biggest-money out-of-state measures in play, billionaire Henry T. Nicholas’s vanity crime victims bill of rights and the payday lenders fake 18% rate cap.
SB 67 does not stop big-money from accessing South Dakota’s ballot; by requiring 88% more signatures, SB 67 makes it 88% harder for real grassroots South Dakota groups to amend the Constitution and makes it far more likely that the only amendments we will see on our ballot will be those proposed by big-money interests.
Then-Senator Corey Brown offered a democracy-fearing measure like this in 2015 that would have raised the signature threshold for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments and for initiated laws and referenda. Senator Brown’s 2015 proposal provoked enormous public backlash that scared him into withdrawing his proposal.
Prime sponsor Senator Jeff Partridge is trying to reduce potential backlash by raising the bar only for amendments but leaving initiated laws and referenda alone. However, since the Legislature seems eager to establish its ability to undo at will our will on initiated laws, Senator Partridge is focusing on boxing us citizens out of our final say on the one thing the Legislature cannot change, the state constitution.
SB 67 also includes an emergency clause that would make this law take effect right away. I see sense no emergency; SB 67 is not, in the words of its Section 2, “necessary for the support of the state government and its existing public institutions.” The emergency clause is necessary to raise signature requirements right now and to prevent us citizens from referring this bad law to a public vote.
Again, while the first words out of President Trump’s mouth yesterday were about giving power back to the people, his Trumpublicans in South Dakota are trying to take power away from the people and consolidate power in Pierre. There’s reason for folks on both sides of the aisle to raise heck about this anti-democratic, anti-populist bill. Call your Senators and tell them to kill Senate Bill 67 now!