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Bolin Proposes Capping Amendments at Four Per Election

Senator Jim Bolin joins his colleagues Rep. Tim Reed and Senator Ernie Otten in the continuing Republican war against people power. Even though he said in July that now isn’t the time to cap ballot measures, the interim task force on initiative and referendum has on its Wednesday agenda Draft Bill #110, a proposal attributed to Senator Bolin that would limit the number of constitutional amendments on any ballot to four: two submitted by the Legislature and two submitted by voters by initiative petition.

As a constitutional amendment, Bolin’s Draft #110 would overcome the existing Article 3 Section 1 provision that says we cannot “deprive the Legislature or any member thereof of the right to propose any measure.” But if three legislators can think up three useful changes to our constitution, there is no good reason to arbitrarily tell one of them to sit down and shut up.

Likewise for citizens: if three separate citizens or groups of citizens can identify important changes that we should make to our constitution to deal with new economic or political conditions, how do we decide which two ideas should go to a public vote now and which one should have to wait for two more years?

Even if there is such a thing as too many constitutional amendments at once, citizen initiative does not appear to be the source of that “problem.” Since we voted to allow amendment by initiative in 1972, citizens have placed more than two amendments on the ballot only once, in 2016. From 1974 to 2016, the Legislature has put more than four times as many amendments to a vote than citizens have:

Election Legislature Citizens
1974 2 0
1976 6 0
1978 4 0
1980 3 2
1982 3 1
1984 1 0
1985 0 0
1986 3 0
1988 2 2
1990 5 0
1992 0 1
1993 0 0
1994 5 0
1996 2 0
1998 6 2
2000 1 2
2001 2 0
2002-Jun 1 0
2002-Nov 3 0
2004 2 0
2006 2 2
2008 4 0
2010 2 0
2012 4 0
2014 1 0
2016 1 4
Total 65 16

Over four decades, citizens have shown far greater restraint in proposing amendments than the Legislature. Even in our big 2016, we still only approved one of our four amendments.

Historically, the greatest number of amendments on any ballot have come from the Legislature: nine in 1970, twelve in 1918, 224 since 1890.

Ballot measure caps at least insult if not directly violate the First Amendment. The Legislature has no compelling interest in restricting the number of constitutional topics on which voters may have meaningful discussions during an election year. The most amendments we’ve had to deal with on one ballot in the initiated-amendment era is eight, in 1998. We don’t need Senator Bolin or any other elitist official telling us that we’re too dumb to think about eight things at once. If citizens and legislators want to discuss eight or more amendments on the ballot, I say, bring them on! We the people are up to the task of reading, evaluating, and voting on our constitution.


  1. Jeff Barth 2017-08-18 09:35

    Four is OK as long as I get to pick them.

  2. Adam 2017-08-18 09:57

    It’s really frustrating to see Republicans doing everything they can to try and limit ballot measures… These are issues people want addressed and the majority in Pierre will not act on.

    Our own Drew Dennertt is also trying to warn people against the evils of ballot measures.

    Are they just afraid of the power of the people?

  3. Donald Pay 2017-08-18 10:11

    What’s purpose does that serve? Absolutely none, except to muddy up the ballot measure process. The guy is carrying this for some hidden special interest. He’s just wants to pretend he’s solving a problem that some special interest thinks this will solve.

    The 1998 amendments failure by the Legislature brought on a hissy fit over the next few years in which the the power structure blamed the Legislature’s failure to support their amendments on the number of measures on the ballot. Hey, they put the most measures on the ballot that year, but the power structure, as is their usual stategy, blamed the people for using the initiative process, and tried to end, or severely cripple the initiative process. They couldn’t repeal it, so over the next several years you had the ridiculous bureaucratization of the process to make it harder to use. That’s why you ended up with the cock-up of a process you have now.

    I don’t know this Bolin character, but he always seems to be carrying water for or kissing the ass of some special interest or another. He seems to be pretty dense, a publicity seeker, and somebody who tcan’t think clearly about anything. Am I wrong?

  4. Roger Elgersma 2017-08-18 11:34

    So to lead by example is the legislature going to limit themselves to 25 bills per session? OHHH, but they think the people are to stupid to present good laws. Those same people that voted him in.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-18 11:51

    Yes, Adam, you pegged it. Drew’s party is very much afraid of people power checking their Legislative prerogative.

  6. Darin Larson 2017-08-18 12:10

    The arrogance of Bolin in trying to limit the power of the people of SD to propose their own laws is breathtaking. It was my understanding that Republicans commonly stand for limiting government–not limiting the people’s right to govern themselves. It is as if Bolin sees himself as part of a ruling class that shan’t tolerate political insurrection by the masses. His world view would fit in well with the aristocracy of old England with him as the lord of the manor. His limited vision for the future of SD is part of the chains of our past holding this state back.

  7. Porter Lansing 2017-08-18 13:38


  8. Darrell Solberg 2017-08-18 23:37

    What they really need to do is put a cap on Bolen’s idiotic ideas.

  9. Rorschach 2017-08-19 12:19

    Senator Bolin is not dense, Mr. Pay. Just the opposite. He is very clever. Bolin is the tip of the Republican spear. Whether it is redistricting issues or ballot issues, Sen. Bolin is always trying to stack the deck for the GOP Party. Democrats underestimate him at their own peril.

  10. Donald Pay 2017-08-19 17:18

    If Bolin is the “tip of the Republican spear,” it needs a good sharpening.

    He’s been quoted already as saying he doesn’t want to “go down that road” of limiting ballot measures. I’d call him pretty dense or a gifted liar if he really proposes this. Maybe he’s trial ballooning it, but it’s a pretty sad effort.

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