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HB 1054: Force Ballot Question Sponsors to Pay for Copies of Initiatives for Every Voter

For the biggest, meanest, most dangerous attack on initiative in South Dakota, turn to Representative Fred Deutsch’s House Bill 1054, which would price grassroots, volunteer ballot question drives out of the democratic marketplace.

Representative Deutsch, backed by prime Senate sponsor Al Novstrup of Aberdeen, who is apparently committed to defiling the memory of Father Robert Haire and Aberdeen’s noble place as the birthplace of initiative and referendum in America, would use House Bill 1054 to expand the information required by statute (SDCL 12-13-11) to be given along with ballot questions on the ballot. Right now, our ballots must include the title, explanation, and recitation of each referred law, initiated law, and initiated amendment. The statute excuses the Secretary of State from having to print the full text of each measure on the ballot.

Deutsch and Novstrup’s HB 1054 would require that, when a voter receives a ballot, the voter must also receive “a copy of the law, measure, constitutional amendment, or other question to be submitted to a vote of the people in its entirety, whether usable or single use.”

In the 2020 general election, 427,529 South Dakotans cast ballots. The state sent out another 15,933 ballots to folks who requested them by mail. Given there were 578,666 registered voters on Election Day, a Secretary of State required by law to make ballots and attached documents available to every voter who might show up could easily have justified printing 578,666 of each ballot and attached document. Given pandemic precautions, ordering just a few such attached documents and requiring strangers to share seems irresponsible. One of the best pandemic precautions, mail-in voting, would also make shared documents impractical.

HB 1054 would thus reasonably require the Secretary of State to print around 580,000 copies of each ballot measure. If the Secretary of State follows Senator Novstrup’s advice that all ballot questions should be printed in 12-point font, ballot questions like 2020’s Initiated Measure 26 could run a dozen pages.

I don’t have a problem with making the text of the laws on the ballot available to every voter. We could save a lot of paper, ink, trash, and money by posting the text online in easy-to-read and easy-to-load plain-text format well before the election. We could make some giant copies and tape them to the walls all over the courthouse. We could even combine this full-text proposal with a nice universal mail-in voting proposal and send a complete voter booklet—ballot, the current pamphlet with Pro/Con statements and sponsor information, and the full text of each ballot question—to every voter in the state.

But here’s the killer: Deutsch and Novstrup want initiative sponsors to pay for the copies of their measures. HB 1054 dictates that “The sponsoring organization of the initiated measure or initiated amendment shall be responsible for the cost of all copies provided to the voters, including the cost of any necessary postage.”

Consider the cost this single sentence would impose on a grassroots organization that sponsors one simple measure that would fit neatly on one simple 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper. The Secretary of State would print at least 500,000 sheets of paper. The UPS Store’s online printing portal limits print orders to 200,000 sheets, but if I run three 166,667-copy orders, I get my copies for nine cents each—$45,000 for the full run. If I put those 500,000 papers in 10-ream boxes, each with 5,000 sheets totaling 44 pounds per box, I can ship each box via the United States Postal Service, with signature and insurance, for $117.14.

The math gets messy, because I have to ship ballots to 66 counties, 44 of which have fewer than 5,000 registered voters and all of which will require some fractional sub-5K case of paper. But I haven’t had breakfast yet, so let’s stick with the 5K boxes and hope things average out.

If I ship 60% of my print run in bulk, 60 boxes, to be available at polling places, I lick over $7,000 in stamps. If I send the other 40%, 200,000, close to the number of ballots we mailed in the 2020 general election, by mail to absentee/early voters at home, I’m licking another $110,000 in standard postage.

I’ve run successful ballot question drives before for less than $20,000. That’s bare minimum budgeting, made more difficult by all the bureaucracy and paperwork that the Legislature has already heaped onto the process, and it works only with issues that rally a huge base of volunteer support and don’t need a lot of campaigning to get passed, but it’s doable. House Bill 1054 raises the cost of sponsoring an initiative drive by $162,000.

And that’s just to ship 500,000 pieces of paper with relatively short initiatives on them. The longer the initiative, the more paper and postage necessary.

Now for out-of-state billionaires like Henry T. Nicholas and big-money special interest groups like the Marijuana Policy Project who can spend millions of dollars on South Dakota initiative campaigns, a $162K from the Secretary of State to deliver initiative text to every voter is no barrier to campaigning. But for grassroots South Dakota groups, that cost can stop a petition drive cold. Volunteers already struggle to scrape together the thousands of dollars in printing and postage costs necessary just to create, circulate, and submit their petitions to qualify for the ballot. They count on volunteers legal advice to navigate the thicket of election and campaign finance law that the Legislature keeps changing and complicating to scare people away from the process. Faced with this $162,000 bill from Deutsch and Novstrup, most grassroots groups could not afford to put initiatives on the ballot.

And that’s Deutsch and Novstrup’s intent with House Bill 1054: price most South Dakotans right out of the political market.

House Bill 1054 demonstrates the Republican Club’s elitist contempt for voters. Legislators like Deutsch and Novstrup don’t have to pay for printing to disseminate the bills they sponsor around the Legislature. They don’t even have to pay for delivery; they get interns and pages to carry the copies of their bills and amendments around the Capitol for them. Legislators don’t have to pay a fee to have their bills heard. They don’t have to pay the LRC a nickel a word for posting bills on the Legislature’s website. Such fees would be absurd and would insult representative democracy; legislators are doing the people’s work, and we the people can and should pay for that work.

Citizens do that same work for the people in the initiative process. Citizens sponsors already pay for their own petition drives, expending enormous resources to collect and verify tens of thousands of signatures for each measure they want the public to vote on. Citizen sponsors establish that the people want their voice to be heard. House Bill 1054 punishes not just the sponsors but the tens of thousands of voters who declare on a legal petition that the public should have its say on an important policy issue.

The power of initiative belongs to all South Dakotans, regardless of wealth. House Bill 1054 would price the initiative process out of our hands and further guarantee that the only folks with a voice in our politics are the wealthy.

Once again, Republicans like Deutsch and Novstrup say they want more civic engagement, but they file legislation to punish real civic activism.

House Bill 1054 gets its first hearing on Monday morning, 7:45 a.m., in House State Affairs. Citizens interested in democracy should contact House State Affairs this weekend and let them know that House Bill 1054 is bad for democracy.

21 Comments

  1. Donald Pay 2021-01-23

    Here’s a reason why a little more South Dakota history and civics might be a great addition to the curriculum in South Dakota schools. Our Republican Party ancestors considered putting the initiative and referendum into our statehood Constitution, but opted to leave it out because the corrupt and elitist eastern politicians were so against allowing the voters a say that they may have resisted statehood for South Dakota. That seemed the best course at the time in light of a few years of Congress failing to lift the Dakotas from territiorial status into statehood. The territorial legislature decided that the initiative and referendum could be added later, by Constitutional amendment. And that’s how our Legislative Article got amended a few years after statehood to include the initiative and referendum.

    When you know this history, you understand how steep the path of decline in honesty and integrity our elected leaders have trod and how they now folic in the muck of corruption and elitism which our ancestors fought to prevent.

    Cory points out the ludicrousness of legislative arrogance. Really, they have no shame.

    The corrupt legislators of today, they understood exactly how and why elected officials are corrupted, and they would have slapped down the current crop of Republican Party elitists. heir poop didn’t stink because they happened to be elected.

  2. grudznick 2021-01-23

    Normally the Bone Cracker Caucus and the Conservatives with Common Sense lobbists butt heads like goats. On this issue I think grudznick may be traveling to Pierre to shake young Mr. Fred’s hand and maybe have him give me that spine tingling pop right there on the floor of the rotundas.

  3. Fast Eddy 2021-01-23

    I recently had a conversation with a friend about political beliefs. Neither of us understand our family members positions on some issues. So we kind of worked through the various issues and why we believe as we do (not always the same). Well, this is one of the reasons I am not a Republican. Too many of them want to deny a voice to any opposition. They add one barrier after another until it is nearly impossible to hear a different view. Even my local city council has devised a way to take public input without really hearing interested people’s opposing voices. Between their methods and the virus, the local government has had a free hand in passing ordinances supported by a special minority at the expense of the all residents.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-23

    Good point, Fast Eddy: Republicans just can’t stand anyone else getting a voice. They seem afraid to allow any of their words or actions to face a real challenge at the polls, because they know deep down they can’t really make a consistent moral case for their positions. They thus have to resort to legislative tricks like HB 1054 to insulate themselves from accountability.

    Get on the horn, folks, and tell your legislators that HB 1054 is a bad idea.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-23

    Al and Fred will argue that initiative sponsors should bear the cost of the election they’ve forced. Hmm… maybe we should force Al and Fred to pay a share of the printing costs of their ballots. After all, if they hadn’t filed their candidate petitions, there wouldn’t have been any costly election; the Secretary of State wouldn’t have had to print ballots at all, and the Governor could have simply appointed someone to fill the vacancies in their districts.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-23

    Or maybe we should make the Legislature pay for initiatives. After all, if legislators did their job and responded to the people, the people wouldn’t have to put laws up for a vote themselves.

  7. Jenny 2021-01-23

    Todays Republicans really hate democracy and Deutch and Novrstrup fit into that category. Deutsch has a bizarre fascination with the LGBT, in particular transgenders in their preteen to teen years. His latest transgender hate bill is out and it bans transgenders to change the sex on their birth certificate. This Deutch had to have been the biggest bully when he was in grade school. Never mind the ontinuing skyrocketing rates of suicide amongst transgender. Republicans don’t care about that, they are more interested in genitals.
    Leave the LGBT alone, Pierre Republicans. You are only hurting them.

  8. Jenny 2021-01-23

    Cory thanks for the highlighted history of Father Robert Haire. Sounds like one of the few Catholic Priests I would have liked. South Dakotans should be proud their state is the birthplace of the Initiative and Referendum. Do you know how many state would love to have the I and R? You are privileged in that aspect, South Dakota, don’t let the sneaky pubs in Pierre take it away.

  9. jerry 2021-01-23

    “Or maybe we should make the Legislature pay for initiatives. After all, if legislators did their job and responded to the people, the people wouldn’t have to put laws up for a vote themselves.” CAH

    Indeed, if the legislators would do the work of the people instead of lining their pockets, we wouldn’t need to be having these conversations.

  10. o 2021-01-23

    I think I need a Civics lesson because I feel like I have a fundamental misunderstanding of what government has become. Silly me, I thought we elected representatives (small r) to go to some seat of government and represent our interests. Heck, I even understood that although I hope that everyone is represented, the focus would be on the majority that elected the representatives. Donald’s comments and Cory’s personal history enforce my thought that the citizen initiative is (was?) the avenue for when citizens feel their representatives are not, well, representing. The check on the initiative was still majority rule — but through popular vote. Checks and balances.

    More and more, it feels like our elected officials are not representatives but instead ordained absolute despots. ONLY they may make rules; ONLY their wishes become rules; Only their rules can be followed.

    All of this seems to be fueled by the cognitive dissonance of SD voters: time and time again SD elects people who do not do the wish of even the majority of the people. In turn, voters return these non-representatives to office.

    If this were just me complaining that I don’t get my way, Grudznick should swoop in and make a reference to it being too bad, majority rules; but this is not that. More and more it SD voters are saying how they stand on issues, and more and more our representatives ignore and undermine this wishes. Now they move to stifle even the voice of that electorate.

    This blog often discusses the problem with single-party rule. More and more that problem is expanding – not the single-party element — but how that party defines “rule” so absolutely.

  11. Jake 2021-01-23

    ‘O’-great comments, to the point. Hence our governess not liking our votes on marijuana so she sues us with our own money, slows down the legislative process to deal with OUR initiated law and hires out of state politicos to speak for her so she can hide out from the press largely, except for national Fox News.
    She did however, grant a brief presser this week, telling us how sad it was that we haven’t heard anything more about the AG killing a man over 4 months back! Wheels of Justice moving?
    These legislators need close watching this year-more so than in past. They are more emboldened, thinking that we the people are numb to politics.
    They are most dangerous now, to society….

  12. o 2021-01-23

    Jake, I think they are emboldened because they do have the power to squeeze everyone else out of the process. I remember not too long ago there was discussion that we needed an initiated measure/Constitutional Amendment to say that initiated measures/Constitutional amendments cannot be reversed by the legislature . . . AND THEN WE ELECTED THE SAME PEOPLE TO OFFICE.

    A question we should be asking candidates from now on is, “Are you running for office as public service or for power aspiration?” (Because candidates cannot lie when running for office.)

  13. grudznick 2021-01-23

    grudznick does not “swoop.” I can no longer do so, please do not mock me thusly.

    The Messrs. Deutsch and Novstrop, the elder, have hit this one spot on the nose. And both of those fellows sport dandy haircuts, so expect them to have the barbers’ backs during the sessions.

  14. Darrell Solberg 2021-01-23

    You don’t have to be qualified or have common sense to serve in the Legislature in S.D.,that is if you have an “R” in front of your name in all too many cases. Al and Fred have led credence to the fact “common sense is a flower that doesn’t grow in every buddies garden”. They are absolutely a hinderance to the people of S.D. in having a voice in government!!! It is shameful that they cause us such embarrassment and we can only hope that this ill conceived bill will be sent to the trash can!! I am sure there are legislators that don’t want it to come to the floor for a full vote. Or maybe it should so that we can see the true colors of members of the legislature!!

  15. Darrell Solberg 2021-01-23

    It saddens me that Al & Fred get elected because they have an “R” in front of their name. Al and Fred have led credence to the fact “common sense is a flower that doesn’t grow in every buddies garden”. They are absolutely a hinderance to the people of S.D. in having a voice in government!!! It is shameful that they cause us such embarrassment and we can only hope that this ill conceived bill will be sent to the trash can!! I am sure there are many legislators that don’t want their bill to come to the floor for a full vote. Or maybe it should so that we can see the true colors of some of the members of the legislature!!

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-23

    O, excellent civics point. Initiative and referendum expand the idea of checks and balances to give the people a useful check and balance against Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches that misuse or disuse their power. There are already more than enough checks on the people’s power available to the Legislature; but our one-party regime wants to rub out any check on its own largely unbridled power.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-23

    And Darrell, the corollary Republicans derive from their electoral experience is that only elected R’s deserve to make laws. The very voters whose wisdom they praise at election time for electing them to Pierre lack the wisdom to vote on good policy.

  18. grudznick 2021-01-23

    Mr. Fred, it seems, had another potty bill he thought about putting on the top of the hopper.

  19. Mark Anderson 2021-01-23

    Fred’s last name sayeth it all. One party rule with Republicans is all you get in the rural states. Just keep moving to Sioux Falls and Rapid and when there are more people in your urban areas then and only then can you balance it out. The switch will be quick since alot of people really are Rinos. It hasn’t been that long since Democrats represented South Dakota. People like the ideas that drive Democrats so naturally the pubs want to kill the ideas. Changing the channel from foxie news would help too. Their proper gander works somehow, it must be the attitude.

  20. Donald Pay 2021-01-25

    In my experience in the 1980’s and 1990’s there was the same Legislative arrogance from the majority party. There were periods when the party split was relatively equal that the Legislature actually worked as a legislative body. Generally, you could find a few in the majority party that had some sense. Now it seems both wings of the majority party try to outdo themselves in being cray-cray. They’re cray-cray in different ways, but, both are arrogant and view voters as subjects and themselves as despots.

  21. RST Tribal Member in 57572 2021-01-26

    Yep, Representative Fred Deutsch’s House Bill 1054 is the result of inbreeding of the one party government in control in Pierre. Need a balance in Pierre.

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