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Attorney General Offers Subjective Explanation of Initiative Reform; So Do I!

Attorney General Marty Jackley and initiative sponsor Cory Allen Heidelberger
Attorney General Marty Jackley and initiative sponsor Cory Allen Heidelberger

Attorney General Marty Jackley provided his explanation this week of the best potential ballot measure in the 2020 hopper yet, my petition reform proposal. Alas, restricted by law to 200 words, the Attorney General had to choose some elements of the 2,567-word* proposal to highlight and some to omit. That choosing of some elements and not others demonstrates the hopeless task the Attorney General faces in trying to fulfill the law’s demand that he provide an “objective” explanation of each ballot measure. When the Attorney General chooses what is explained (and in what order) and what isn’t, the Attorney General inevitably embeds subjectivity in this official statement. The law then forces petitioners to distribute this subjective statement and forces the the Secretary of State to print this subjective statement on every ballot, rather than letting voters seek their own information and make up their own minds about each ballot measure without state interference.

That subjectivity (and Gaia help us when Dan Lederman gets to ghost-write them for Idiot-General-Elect Jason Ravnsborg) is precisely why I would love to remove the Attorney General’s explanation from the books. But we have bigger petition fish to fry.

To see what fish we are frying, let’s take a look at the Attorney General’s explanation alongside my explanation. For sport, I’ll set myself the same word limit as the Attorney General, 200. I make no claim to impossible objectivity:


This measure eliminates some information a ballot measure petition circulator must provide to a petition signer, including the circulator’s contact information and a statement whether the circulator is paid.

Additionally, the measure eliminates the law barring individuals from sponsoring or circulating petitions for four years if they have committed multiple petition-law violations.

It changes fiscal note requirements for initiated measures and initiated constitutional amendments, and removes fiscal notes from the ballot for these
types of measures.

By law, the Attorney General must write a title and an explanation for each initiated measure and initiated amendment. This proposal decreases the time in which the Attorney General must file the title. It eliminates the Attorney General’s deadline for filing an explanation for these types of measures.

Current law requires sponsors to file signed initiative petitions with the Secretary of State at least one year prior to the general election. The measure changes this deadline to four months prior.

Under this measure, most voter-approved ballot measures would take effect the day after the official vote canvass rather than the following July 1 as the law currently states.

The measure repeals the statute that prohibits an initiated measure from embracing more than one subject.

Sections 1-3 stop forcing circulators to hand out personal contact and pay information while still requiring that circulators make available contact information about their petition’s sponsors.

Sections 1-3 allow circulators to provide required petition information in print or electronic format.

Sections 1-3 allow petitioners eight more months to obtain voter signatures.

Section 4 allows voter-approved measures to take effect one week after the vote but allows voters to approve later enactment dates.

Section 5 stops forcing citizens to give the state personal information and documents to exercise their right to petition.

Section 6 removes additional fines and potentially unconstitutional restrictions on petition rights.

Section 7 allows the Legislative Research Council to write more detailed fiscal notes and requires the LRC to provide this guidance in 15 days rather than 60.

Section 8 requires the Attorney General to explain initiatives in 15 days rather than 60 and shortens ballots by removing the fiscal note.

Section 9 removes a four-month delay, added in 2018, from LRC review of initiatives.

Section 10 repeals the single-subject rule for initiated measures.

Section 11 removes a reference to a statute repealed by Section 9.

200 words 188 words

I’ve submitted a minor revision to Attorney General Jackley. When he provides his revised explanation, I’ll submit a petition form to the Secretary of State and start handing out forms. Anyone who’d like a copy to circulate is welcome to volunteer… but remember, because of the Republican Legislature’s love of paperwork and hatred of grassroots democracy, to circulate this petition, you’ll have to give me (and, ultimately, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General) info from your driver’s license, voter registration, current address and last two home addresses, an affidavit swearing you’re not moving out of South Dakota after November 2020, a library card of utility bill if you have one, information about any in-state tuition you’re paying, and information about your hunting and fishing licenses. You’ll also have to carry around a stack of papers to give to signers that include your name, phone number, and e-mail address; my name, phone number, and e-mail address; your statement that you are a volunteer, the Attorney General’s explanation; the LRC’s fiscal note, if they issue one.

That list alone should make clear why I’m offering this initiative.

*Of the 2,567 words in the initiative, 877 are actual changes to statute; the rest is existing statutory language that must be printed for full context, plus headings. Section 11 exemplifies the complication of making a simple change. SDCL 12-13-25 poses no obstacles to the initiative process that require changes. However, this section refers to the oppressive four-month Session delay imposed by SDCL 12-13-25.2. Section 9 repeals that delay, so LRC noted that Section 11 is necessary to avoid reference to a dead statute. To remove that eight-word reference for consistency’s sake, the petition must thus print that entire otherwise harmless statute, increasing the length of the petition by 259 words, or by 11% of what the petition would have been without Section 11.

**Unlike two of the three citizen-initiated measures and amendments placed on the 2018 ballot and two of the seven initiated measures and amendments on the 2016 ballot, Attorney General Jackley finds no reason to suggest that this initiative may be challenged on constitutional grounds.


  1. grudznick 2018-11-24

    By not putting how much these measures initiated by in-state partisan parties and out-of-state groups wanting to meddle in South Dakota would cost on the ballot you are hiding things from the voters, Mr. H. Why do you want to hide things from the voters? Voters should see all the information on the ballot.

  2. Donald Pay 2018-11-24

    It’s not surprising to me that a corrupt AG trying to protect a corrupt system would propose a corrupt explanation. That’s what you get when you allow these people to screw with the citizens’ ballot measure for twenty years.

    Sure, it’s unconstitutional forced speech, but who has the balls to stand up and take it to court. This indicates just how corrupt the elite have made the initiative process. Cory, if you give these crooks a lot of words, they twist them into b.s. Wordiness is the friend of the corrupt. Notice how many words Trump uses to say nothing? That’s why it needs to be simple.

    Think about my proposal provided earlier. Simply repeal everything passed before a date, such as 1998, when the initiative worked just fine and there weren’t any problems. Then provide for a task force of citizens, not Legislators or AGs or any other government official, to propose any needed additional provisions.

  3. grudznick 2018-11-24

    Wordiness is the friend of those who thirst for knowledge about a subject before they vote on it. Why would you hide the cost from me, the voter?


  4. Donald Pay 2018-11-24

    Sorry, Grudz, I would agree with you with anything but initiatives and the South Dakota elite. As you well know, fiscal notes are largely b.s. Why require B.S. on an initiative?

    I remember when some government economist put out a study of the economic impact of gold mining. It was riddled with errors and false assumptions. I did a counter study, using more accurate information and assumptions. My estimates turned out to be far more accurate.

    Sure, fiscal notes can be done fairly accurately for tax legislation or anything that might add FTEs, but anything else is just sticking a thumb in the air.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-24

    Grudz, you’re one to talk about hiding information. Care to share your real name yet?

    We do not place fiscal impact statements on the ballot next to candidates’ names to say how much their, say, top ten policy priorities would cost. In not printing that information on the ballot, we are not hiding it. That information is far more widely and easily available in the press, where voters may choose among multiple competing assessments and make their own decision. Placing those fiscal notes on the ballot, as Donald Pay contends, gives a place of privilege to one imperfect estimate.

    Placing fiscal notes on the ballot also gives place of privilege to one bit of information forced there by legislators who in general want to make it harder to pass initiatives. If we are going to have a fiscal note, should we not also have a human note? Suppose I put a total abortion ban on the ballot. The only information voters get on the ballot is that the measure would cost taxpayers maybe a million dollars a year. Doesn’t current fiscal-note law “hide” from voters the fact that an abortion ban would save a few hundred fetuses’ lives each year? To avoid “hiding” anything from voters, shouldn’t we require that the ballot include the ballot question pamphlet, every news article and blog post published about the initiative, and copies of every postcard and poster and fundraising letter produced by proponents and opponents? Shouldn’t we also have on the ballot the full list of campaign donors, plus written statements from those donors about why they gave money to support or oppose the initiative?

    I hope you see the absurdity here. I don’t hide anything by not writing it, not when that information is a matter of public record, freely available to every voter. It’s just like party affiliation (remember Amendment V in 2016?): take that information off the ballot, and there will still be plenty of bloggers and campaigners who will make sure everyone has that information.

    Take the fiscal note off the ballot, and I will post those fiscal notes here on the blog.

  6. Debbo 2018-11-24

    I like Don’s plan to reset the I&R process and make any repairs necessary.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-25

    Debbo, I’d be happy to have a full reset. It’s too bad we can’t trust our current Legislature to conduct such a reset.

    In an ideal world, the only information on the ballot would be…

    • Ballot Measures: Title.
    • Candidates: Name and office sought

    Inclusion of any other information represents someone’s subjective choice of information included to sway the voters.

  8. Donald Pay 2018-11-25

    (1) reset to 1998, (2) require a citizens committee consisting of people who have sponsored initiatives, (3) require the committee to consider any needed changes to the initiative process and submit the changes to the legislature for their consideration, (4) provide that any legislative amendments to the committee’s bill not approved by the committee shall have an effective date of 2120.

  9. grudznick 2018-11-25

    If the Title were the only item on the ballot, Mr. H, think how untransparent your measures initiated by big-out-of-state-dark-money would be. Title: “A measure to fix all that is wrong with the world.” Title: “A measure to end all problems suffered by most.” Both of those measures could have million dollar hand-outs to corrupt out-of-state namecallers and as you well know, 95% of voters are too lazy to understand these measures. That’s why you want to hide information about them.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-26

    What, Grudz, you don’t trust the A.G. to write a title that accurately describes the measure but keeps the ballot simple?

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-26

    Quit lying about me, Grudz. If I wanted to hide information from the public, I wouldn’t write a blog.

    I want everyone to study the ballot measures. I want the state to continue to make available the ballot question pamphlet, and I opposed Sec. Krebs’s effort to stop producing that document. But I also want a ballot that is absolutely unbiased by anyone’s subjective choice of text to place before the voters on that sacred piece of paper.

  12. Donald Pay 2018-11-26


    You know that most fiscal notes are b.s., as are the AG’s explanations. I learned this back in 1988 and 1990, when the mining industry lobbied the AG for certain specific wording, which they had tested with polling and focus groups. Some of that language made it into the ballot explanation. Did you get a chance to weigh in on the un-transparency of that?

    The AG explanation is the most corrupt and un-transparent part of the initiative process. It’s all backroom dealing. Do you get a chance to lobby the AG behind the scenes, or is that just the elite?

  13. Donald Pay 2018-11-26

    When it came Cory’s initiative proposal and the one’s we wrote in the 1980s and 1990s, they were mostly pretty transparently written. The nuclear waste vote initiative had multiple public meetings at which many people from across the state participated. The solid waste initiative was written in conjunction with public hearings that DENR was holding on solid waste regulations, and was drawn up by the LRC into bill form, and, I believe, introduced. The first 2 mining initiatives (two in the same year) were crafted with a lot of input from Black Hills citizens. The 3rd mining initiative was largely inspired by Bill Janklow, whose public comments were used to craft that initiative. That was totally out in the open. The corporate farming initiative had several state-side meetings with many people meeting to discuss and craft an initiative.

    Cory’s proposal was presented in Dakota Free Press. You, Grudz, had the opportunity to suggest additions or subtractions. You, Grudz, had the opportunity to submit information regarding costs. And so did the Governor, the AG, the LRC and all the elite. It was all out in the open.

    Yet Grudz seems to think he and his elite friends are entitled to special rights. He thinks he’s entitled to take the proposal behind closed doors to concoct a b.s AG explanation, which is nothing but a lobbied piece of trash, or a fiscal note that is more like buttwipe than a real discussion of economics.

    Grudz thinks the elite have all the answers, and that WE THE PEOPLE are the ones who are hiding information. Yet, Grudz does nothing to make the AG process transparent, to make the fiscal note a real thing.

    No, Grudz, it’s been 20 years of you and your elite friends trying to “fix” the initiative process, and the problems have only gotten worse. The real issue is the initiative process was never broken in the first place. It’s time to go back to sanity.

  14. Donald Pay 2018-11-26

    The elite have been trying to “fix” the initiative process for 20 years. They’ve passed bill after bill, and all of their “fixes” have, by their own admission, created worse problems that they will continue to try to “fix.” The point is Grudz, as a true elitist, can’t stomach a process where Under God the People Rule. He and his buddies in the elite have carved out clearly corrupt processes, like the AG explanation and the fiscal note, as some sort of control on the people’s process. They claim these provide transparency, but they are the opposite of transparency. Both of those processes are riddled with corruption, no public hearings, no opportunity to provide corrective information. It’s all a bogus effort to corrupt the initiative process.

    When elite, who have been trying to “fix” the process continually fail, by their own admission time and time again, it is time to simply deconstruct all of their “fixes,” and let the people who actually know how the process works, start over and suggest any changes.

  15. grudznick 2018-11-26

    Anybody can talk to the Attorney General whenever they see him, and bend his ear over a beverage or juicy steak if they want. The real issue is the initiative process needs to be whittled way back, until it is but a sapling of itself and let it grow slow and strong.

  16. Debbo 2018-11-26

    So it’s official. Grudz wants to silence the every day citizens of SD and let the SDGOP rule the state as it suits them. What we don’t know won’t hurt us, right Grudz?

    “Under God, the SDGOP rules.”

  17. grudznick 2018-11-26

    There is no God, Ms. Geelsdottir. God drown in a bowl of cereal.

  18. Debbo 2018-11-26

    You don’t need a god Grudz. You’ve got the SDGOP!

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