I&R Task Force Won’t Recommend Capping Ballot Measures

Well, one bad idea down, five to go.

The Legislature’s interim task force on initiative and referendum has decided not to pursue capping the number of ballot measures allowed on each year’s ballot. AT yesterday’s meeting, the task force decided to drop Bill Draft #5 (also titled 355Z0076).

As I mentioned in my first analysis of Bill Draft #5, limiting the number of initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments on each ballot would allow wealthy special interests to rush dummy measures to the ballot and prevent grassroots citizens from accessing the ballot. Such a cap would also likely be unconstitutional: the people’s constitutional right to initiate and refer laws outweighs any concern that state might have about harms caused by long ballots. The Legislative Research Council’s summary of research on the impact of ballot measures on voter turnout indicates that more ballot measures do not depress voter turnout.

SDPB quotes Senator Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) and Senator Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea), two opponents of direct democracy, on turning down the ballot measure cap:

“We should not go down this road at this time,” Bolin says. “There is a feeling out there, at least in the legislative district I represent, the volume of the issues that are on the ballot before the public is too great.”

…“If you don’t like something on the ballot, then vote ‘no,’” Otten says. “I have some problems with putting any constraint on that” [Lee Strubinger, “Task Force Abandons Legislation to Place Cap on Ballot Questions,” SDPB Radio, 2017.07.19].

Senator Bolin’s willingness to reject a cap on ballot measures sounds flimsy and temporary: he still sounds like he looks forward to a time when he can limit our rights. Senator Otten at least sounds the proper response democratic response: if you don’t like ballot measures, don’t vote for ’em.

Now let’s hope the I&R task force has the good sense to trash the five other bad bill draftss in its hopper so far, proposals that further delay ballot measure petitioners (#1, #2, #3), restrict the length of ballot measures (#6), and a new clunker posted yesterday, #12, which would reverse the Yes/No recitation on the ballot for referred laws. I understand the confusion that can arise on referenda, but it sounds like a sneaky trick by legislators to protect their bad measures from the default No to which voters seem to resort when they don’t understand a measure. Let’s keep those Yes/No recitations consistent: “Yes” means enacting a new policy; “No” means keeping the status quo.

3 Responses to I&R Task Force Won’t Recommend Capping Ballot Measures

  1. Donald Pay

    Bolin: “There is a feeling out there, at least in the legislative district I represent, the volume of the issues that are on the ballot before the public is too great.”

    Of course that is the feeling, and he’s right. Why are there so many issues on the ballot?

    It’s really very simple. Legislative and Executive Branch failure.

    People have zero belief that their elected representatives will address in any constructive way the issues they bring up. The Legislature and the Governor are not performing in a manner satisfactory to many citizens. They use their constitutional rights to address the issues that the Legislature fails to address.

    Face it, the Legislature is vastly unrepresentative of the range of thought about what issues are important. Beyond that, they are unrepresentative about what solutions there are to address those issues. Gerrymandering over the last 40 years has led to a fossilized Legislature. This sort of fossilization was what term limits were supposed to solve, but the gerrymandering has gotten so precise that there really aren’t real elections anymore. Representative democracy doesn’t really exist in South Dakota.

    If people really want to decrease the number of ballot measures, make elections mean something. Right now, in South Dakota and in my state of Wisconsin, voters don’t pick their legislators. Legislators pick their voters. Representative democracy does not exist.

  2. Donald Pay

    Rather than trying so further screw up the initiative and referendum process, the Legislative and Executive Branches ought to fix their own processes by opening them up. First up might be redistricting. Second, the Legislature could encourage a process through their own rules to allow citizens to petition on-line for certain legislation. Let citizens propose amendments. Make citizens a real part of the process. The Governor could do the same.

  3. Porter Lansing

    Hear, hear Donald. They label laziness and inability to legislate (even a simple meandering water issue) as “promoting small government” and the right wing haybillys eat it up like lefse with sugar and butter. It’s elected laziness and not knowing how to write legislation that provokes citizen initiatives and referendums.