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HB 1241 Would Limit Big Counties to 50% of Signatures on Ballot Measure Petitions

Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) came through this week with his proposal to require geographical diversity in signatures on ballot measure petitions. House Bill 1241 adds this formula to the requirements for collecting signatures to place initiated and referred laws on the statewide ballot:

Of the five percent of qualified electors required to sign the petition, no more than fifty percent may be registered voters from the five most populated counties in the state as determined by the most recent federal census [excerpt, HB 1241, introduced 2016.02.04]. 

Note that Rep. Bolin’s language refers to the “five percent” signature requirement. That means HB 1241 does not apply to initiated constitutional amendments, which require signatures from ten percent of qualified electors (i.e., ten percent of the total voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election). Apparently Rep. Bolin is fine with voters in Sioux Falls and Rapid City single-handedly tinkering with the state constitution, just not with state statute.

If enacted, HB 1241 would impose geographical signature requirements for the 2018 and 2020 cycles based on the 2010 Census figures. The last Census found that the five counties with the highest population in South Dakota made up a snudge over 47% of our population:

2010 Census population share cumulative population share
South Dakota 814,180
Minnehaha 169,468 20.81% 20.81%
Pennington 100,948 12.40% 33.21%
Lincoln 44,828 5.51% 38.72%
Brown 36,531 4.49% 43.21%
Brookings 31,965 3.93% 47.13%
Codington 27,227 3.34% 50.48%

If Rep. Bolin wants to get as close as possible to a 50-50 split, he should include Watertown and Codington County in the big-county cutoff group. But when I set 2010 Census figures next to 2014 estimates, I see that those big six have crept up to 51.9% of the state population; leave out Codington, and Bolin’s bill restricts big-county signatures to 48.6%, closer to the apparent 50-50 ideal of HB 1241.

But should that be our ideal? Must big-town backers win at least one-to-one second from small-town and country neighbors for any statewide policy they want?

As I pointed out when Rep. Bolin trial-ballooned his geographic signature restriction in January, his signature scheme creates two inconsistencies in South Dakota law and lawmaking:

  1. HB 1241 requires a quasi-urban-rural mix of signatures for ballot measures, but it still leaves the door open for statewide candidates to access the ballot with nothing but Sioux Falls, Rapid City, or Aberdeen signatures. For instance, I could gather the 700-some signatures needed to run for U.S. Senate without leaving Aberdeen.  Why, Rep. Bolin, is it fair to put me on the ballot with such a geographically limited batch of signatures but not a ballot measure?
  2. HB 1241 imposes a restriction on citizen legislative power that it does not impose on legislators’ legislative power. The principle of HB 1241 suggests that no bill should go in the Legislative hopper unless at least half of its sponsors come from one of the 61 smaller counties in the state. That requirement would kill HB 1241, since its only sponsors—Rep. Bolin and Senator Dave Omdahl—live in Lincoln and Minnehaha counties.

I invite readers to peruse the list of initiatives and referenda headed for this year’s ballot and those on which we have voted in past years to identify any measures that show exploitation of initiative and referendum to benefit the interests of our five most populated counties at the expense of the other 61 counties in South Dakota. Absent such examples, the only purpose of HB 1241 appears to be to make it harder for citizens to put issues to a statewide vote. And if that’s all HB 1241 does, then we should vote it down.



  1. 96Tears 2016-02-06 11:11

    Our legislature provides 105 seats for stupid people to blather about their self-righteousness while doing nothing to advance our state and solve the truly serious problems. We could get just as much mileage from shutting down the House of Representatives and have just a State Senate. I’d rather deal with and bankroll 35 seats filled with stupid people than 105.

    What do you folks think? Since Rep. Bolin thinks it’s fair to limit people’s voices, why don’t we just help him shut his pie hole and stay home in Canton where he can agitate people with a seat on the city commission?

  2. 96Tears 2016-02-06 11:28

    Brown County bonus!!! Imagine being represented by only one Novstrup and one Greenfield instead of two of each! Less senseless, self-righteous blather in Pierre. Less senseless, self-righteous blather at home in crackerbarrels. Same quality of dumb, but half the blather.

  3. Jeff Barth 2016-02-06 12:26

    So I don’t count as a full citizen because I live in Minnehaha?!
    Not amused.

  4. Madman 2016-02-06 12:52

    We the people….wait that’s only for those federal papers. In South Dakota its “we the people “except those that don’t meet the following criteria…..

  5. Chris S. 2016-02-06 13:01

    Here’s a simple concept that I thought everybody understood: Acreage doesn’t vote; people do. It doesn’t matter where your registered voters live in South Dakota, they all get an equal voice. It doesn’t matter if you live in Edgemont, Timber Lake, or Sioux Falls; one vote is one vote. Your vote doesn’t count for less because you live in Rapid City, Aberdeen, or Watertown.

    If it needs to be harder to use the petition process — and it doesn’t — then increase the number of signatures required. Don’t create some unnecessary, farcical, burdensome requirement like gathering signatures from every county or whatever. We’re talking about petitions, not a Constitutional convention.

  6. 96Tears 2016-02-06 14:40

    Just as our Founding Fathers declared: Only white male adult property-owners have the right to vote and sign petitions in South Dakota. Just as God and Jesus commanded because they were all Christians. This excludes homosexuals because they are an abomination, of course.

  7. Roger Elgersma 2016-02-06 15:03

    The real win or lose situation is the ballot box and that is required to be each vote counts the same and majority rules.
    For most issues everyone is affected about the same. But some issues are clearly rural or urban issues. Some years ago we had a ballot measure to limit corporate farms. Clearly this would affect the rural areas more and differently than urban. Should we have limited the percentage of farmers that could sign that constitutional amendment. Absolutely not. Whomever wants it on the ballot should be able to put it on legally and with equal opportunity. Then it would still have to pass with the majority of everyone and that is fair as well. But absolutely do not limit a normal law abiding citizen from participating just because they do not live on a farm, or for race religion or anything else.

  8. Donald Pay 2016-02-06 16:35

    As a Legislator, Bolin can propose anything he wants. That is in the South Dakota Constitution. However, it isn’t going anywhere. Even if it would pass, the proposal is wildly in contradiction with the South Dakota Constitution, if someone would challenge it. That’s the problem. People just assume the position and let this shit happen. So, I’d look at this bill as a vehicle. Have some hoghouse amendments drafted to make this apply to candidates for statewide office. Have some amendments available to get rid of the ridiculously anti-constitutional AG propaganda form you have to distribute.

    I’m not sure why people in South Dakota let these folks get away with this stuff. That whole AG bullshit sheet you have to distribute is wildly unconstitutional. Someone needs to take that whole process to court.

    I’m sure he’s submitting this for the elitist drek that have been chipping away at the

  9. Donald Pay 2016-02-06 16:38

    (continuing from above)…initiative and referendum for some time. I wonder what drek will show up to testify for this bill.

  10. Steve 2016-02-07 08:04

    Stop tinkering with the democratic process. This will do nothing but further disenfranchise voters. Maybe you want to sign the petition, but oops, you’re too late…we already have our quota from your county. Your opinion/vote doesn’t count anymore.

  11. Don Coyote 2016-02-07 11:57

    Of the 23 states which have the Initiative process, 57% (13) have a geographical distribution requirement. The intent of a geographical distribution requirement is that all of a State’s voters should have a say in which initiatives make it onto the ballot. Just as all of the State’s populis is represented by an equal apportionment in a representative Legislature, so should a citizenry that is assuming legislative powers in a citizen’s Legislature. It would be instructive to see if the data shows that the more populous urban centers are having a undo influence on the initiative process.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-02-07 14:04

    Jeff, you’d still count as a full citizen under Bolin’s bill if you sign early. Keep an eye out for those circulators! ;-)

    Don C, if geographical distribution matters, why don’t we apply it to bill sponsorship, votes in the Legislature, and candidate nominating petitions?

    Data: I can tell you that the vast majority of the signatures I saw on the Furlong and Glodt petitions were gathered in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and on the reservations. I’m still wondering if there is any example of a ballot measure that showed a clear effort of urban interests to beat up rural interests.

    Donald Pay, I’ll be on hoghouse watch on this bill. Everyone, keep your eyes peeled!

  13. grudznick 2016-02-07 14:58

    If Mr. H hoghouses Mr. Bolin’s bill I bet his next one will attack bloggers with gag orders or something. Mr. Bolin won’t forget.

  14. Don Coyote 2016-02-07 16:51

    @cah: “Don C, if geographical distribution matters, why don’t we apply it to bill sponsorship, votes in the Legislature, and candidate nominating petitions?”

    The State Constitution gives the Legislature the power to make it’s own rules: Art 3, Sec 9 “Each house shall determine the rules of its proceedings,….”. Statutizing legislative rules binds future Legislatures to procedures/rules that may interfere with later Legislature’s perogatives. In addition statutized rules would muddy the Separation of Powers by giving the Governor veto power over any statutes passed governing legislative procedures.

    When citizens assume the powers of the Legislature, there are no institutional rules to follow only Constitutional limitations. The “Citizen’s Legislature” is also not subject to the Executive Veto mimicking somewhat the exclusion of the Executive in setting procedures for the Legislature. In addition, future Legislatures are not bound by the decisions of the Initiative procedure preserving the Legislature’s power to establish it’s own rules. Art 3, Sec 1: “This section shall not be construed so as to deprive the Legislature or any member thereof of the right to propose any measure.”

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-02-08 17:53

    Nice abstract argument, Don, but it doesn’t answer the question about the principle: why would Legislative perogatives differ from the standard Rep. Bolin wants to set for the people’s exercise of legislative power? Why should legislators follow one standard and citizens a stricter standard? Your answer boils down to, “Because legislators want to, and because they are special.” That doesn’t help us understand why Bolin’s geographic distribution principle is good or useful. Please try again.

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