In his overblown Republic-Not-A-Democracy™ testimony to House State Affairs for House Bill 1275 yesterday, Representative Steven Haugaard defended his unworkable Senate-district quota for ballot question petition signatures emphasized our Founders’ aversion to democracy and said, “A Republic was meant only for virtuous people.”
Translation: “I’m more virtuous than you commoners, so shut up and let us elites run the state.”
The virtuous Haugaard said nothing about the conflicting standards for initiated laws, referred laws, and initiated amendments and the arbitrary in-district restrictions on petition circulators that Rep. Drew Dennert and Senator Brock Greenfield agree would make petition drives practically impossible. He did offer an amendment bringing the quota down from two thirds to a simple majority of Senate districts, but Secretary of State Shantel Krebs testified that the voting data necessary to make HB 1275 work does not exist and would not be available until perhaps after the 2022 election cycle. House State Affairs was alarmed, but not enough: Rep. Haugaard got Reps. Beal, DiSanto, Heinemann, Laterell, Mickelson (of course!), and Qualm to join him in voting for HB 1275, possibly the single worst anti-initiative bill in the hopper.
Another as-yet unexplored aspect of this initiative-killing bill is the intersection of the geographical quota and redistricting.
Current statute defines the number of signatures petitioners must collect as a fraction of the number of people who voted in the last election for governor. For example, since 277,403 people voted for governor in our 2014 election, petitioners right now have to gather 13,781 signatures—5% of that turnout—to put an initiated law on the ballot.
HB 1275 does not change that gubernatorial basis, but Section 1 shifts that calculation from the statewide vote to the vote within each of our 35 Senate districts: “The petition shall be signed by not less than five percent of the qualified electors
of the state in each of two-thirds of the senate districts described in § 2-2-43.
Again, no one has that data for districts, but Section 1 appears to require that we find that data and apply it to each district from which petitions are submitted. So if an initiative drive chose to circulate in, say, District 2 and District 3, and if we found that, say, 7,000 people in District 2 and 8,000 people in District 3 voted for governor in the last election, District 2 petitioners would have collect at least 350 signatures from District 2 and District 3 circulators would have to collect at least 400 signatures from District 3.
Now how does that quota work in a year after redistricting, such as 2032? The signature quotas will be based on gubernatorial vote counts from the 2030 election from each of the Senate districts as drawn in 2021. However, the Legislature will redraw that map in 2031. By the time an initiative drive could start in November 2032, the Legislature will have redrawn the districts defined in SDCL 2-2-43. That redistricting will throw out the old by-district signature quotas and require the Secretary of State to recount the 2030 election results based on district boundaries that did not exist.
Redistricting could also hinder referendum drives by delaying when individuals may start circulating petitions. The Legislature has to enact its decennial redistricting in a special session before the election year so candidates know where they’ll be petitioning. The 2011 map became effective on January 23, 2012.
So suppose the 2021 map keeps me in District 3 and I continue to live in District 3 for the following ten years. On January 23, 2032, a new map takes effect, and I find myself in a newly drawn District 4. HB 1275 Section 2 says that I can only circulate a ballot measure petition if I “have resided for not less than ninety days in the senate district from which any petition signature is obtained.” My new District 4 will have just come into existence; I can’t legally say I have resided in District 4 until District 4 itself has existed for 90 days, which won’t be until April 22. Under current law, only requires that circulators be South Dakota residents, regardless of district, I would be able to start circulating a referendum petition right after the Legislature adjourns, probably on March 30, 2032. Under HB 1275’s thoughtlessly composed criterion, I can’t circulate my District 4 referendum petition until April 22, 2032. I lose 23 days—25% of my already crazy-tight 90-day circulation window—to petition some bad law onto the ballot.
These technicalities of petition law are far less stirring than Steven Haugaard’s pretentions to tri-corner-hatted philosophy and superior virtue. But these technical flaws show why basing signature thresholds for statewide ballot measures on arbitrary and ephemeral geographical subdivisions of the state is bad policy.
The petition circulation system is not broken. House Bill 1275 will break it. Members of the House, please vote NO on House Bill 1275.