Former Dell Rapids legislator Dan Ahlers wants to do some more legislating… by the people! He’d like us to vote on amending the state constitution to change how we draw our Legislative districts!
According to the suggested revisions sent by the Legislative Research Council on June 21, the Ahlers amendment would scrap Article 3 Section 5, which gives the Legislature its complete authority to draw its own districts to suit its its partisan members’ political interests. Instead, the Ahlers amendment would establish a five-member independent redistricting commission mandated to draw districts after every Census on a “grid-like pattern” adjusted solely on the following criteria:
- Requirements of the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution, and federal law;
- Geographical compactness and contiguity;
- Socioeconomic similarity (a nod toward Dr. Erin Fouberg’s proposal to draw districts around areas of shopping habits?)
- Visible geographic features, municipal and county boundaries, and Census tracts.
LRC recommends reordering those criteria and giving socioeconomic area the lowest priority.
Like 2016’s failed Amendment T, the Ahlers amendment forbids redistricters from considering party registration, voting history, or the place of residence of any Legislative incumbent or candidate in drawing district boundaries.
The Ahlers amendment further resembles T in requiring that redistricters not hold any public or party office for three years before or after serving on the commission and that they not be recent party switchers. Like Amendment T, the Ahlers amendment prohibits a majority of commission members belonging to the same party. Amendment T called for nine members of the commission, while Ahlers calls for only five, so that limits any one party to seats on the Ahlers version of the redistricting commission.
Ahlers diverges significantly from Amendment T in giving the power to appoint redistricters not to the Board of Elections (which point Republicans used to speciously argue that the T board would end up rigged for one party) but to party leaders in the House and Senate and to the Secretary of State. That still likely leaves three members picked by Republicans, two by Democrats, and none by independents or alternative parties, but it’s better than the current scheme in which districts are drawn by the people who stand to benefit directly from rigged district boundaries.
Ahlers and other ballot question sponsors are under a tight schedule. With the LRC’s send date of June 21, if Dan hustled and sent a revision to Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for review right away, our partisan A.G. could sit on the measure for sixty days (and his boss Dan Lederman will surely tell him to do so), meaning Ahlers might not hit the streets with this petition until August 20, just barely in time to take that petition to the State Fair and start collecting the 33,921 signatures necessary to put a constitutional amendment on the 2020 South Dakota ballot.