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Novstrup Delays 14-Point Font Bill for Secret “Clean-Up” Amendment

Senate Bill 77, the 14-point-font rule designed to crush initiative petitions, isn’t on its way to the Governor’s desk yet. The bill just needed concurrence from the Senate to the House’s minor amendment of the title to reflect the Senate’s expansion of the bill to cover petitions for initiated laws and initiated constitutional amendments.

But then SB 77’s prime sponsor, initiative-hating, democracy-hating Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) stood up and asked the Senate not to concur and instead throw his 14-point-font bill to a conference committee. Senator Novstrup told the Senate (see 50:40 in today’s video from the Senate) he thinks the bill “can be improved with a clean-up amendment,” but he did not tell the Senate or the public what clean-up amendment he has up his sleeve. But the motion was approved, and SB 77 now goes to a conference committee consisting of Novstrup, Representative Carl Perry, Senator Reynold Nesiba, Senator Marsha Symens, Representative Rhonda Milstead, and Representative Erin Healy.

The proper clean-up the committee should consider is to put this piece of trash in the nearest garbage can and leave petitions alone. As I’ve said before, requiring a 14-point font on petitions is just one more of the sneaky bureaucratic hurdles Republicans have devised to gradually make petitioning practically impossible. Forcing petitioners to use 14-point font for their initiative text, along with all the other state-mandated boilerplate that has to go on every petition sheet, would make placing even a small, simple law like SB 77 on a normal-sized piece of paper in initiative petition form impossible. In other words, SB 77 would make it impossible for citizens to initiate exactly the kind of law that Senator Novstrup thinks he and the Legislature should be able to propose and pass with no such niggling limits.

In other words, SB 77 epitomizes Novstrup’s elitist Republican philosophy of, “Power for me but not for thee!”

SB 77 captures another bit of hypocrisy that belies Novstrup’s justification for this big-government intrusion on the sovereign rights of the people. Novstrup has claimed he just wants to make sure everyone can read those initiative petitions so they know what they are placing on the ballot. Yet Novstrup has shown no concern for making sure the ballots themselves are readable. No laws prescribe the font size on our ballots. Only a small minority of voters ever see a petition; every voter sees a ballot. It would seem that a patriot concerned about myopia as a threat to election integrity would start with ballot reform, not petition reform.

Novstrup may sputter, “But I’ve never had trouble reading a ballot. It’s those darn petitions I find unreadable!” I would question how many ballot question petitions Novstrup has ever read, let alone signed. But let’s imagine the cross-examination we could have with Al and our fellow bespectacled big-font fans:

Well, Senator Novstrup, when you encountered a petition that you couldn’t read, did you sign it?

—No, of course not.

—Why not?

—Common sense says we should never sign things we can’t read.

—Are you the only person with this common sense?


—Then why would other people who share this common sense ignore that common sense and sign a petition that they can’t read?

Petitioners already use small font at their own peril. Common-sense voters will protect their sacred signature as well as their sacred vote from any petition and any petitioner they don’t trust. They don’t need Al’s font-fuss-budgetry to tell them whether they want to sign a petition or vote on an issue. Al’s lost arguments on initiative petitions more times than he’s won, so he just wants to make sure there are fewer initiative petitions making him a loser.

The form and style of petitions, just like ballots, is left in current law (SDCL 12-1-9) to the State Board of Elections. The State Board of Elections has never deemed it necessary to protect the voters from themselves by dictating font sizes or other such foolishness. The State Board of Elections trusts the people and their common sense. Senate Novstrup and SB 77 evidently do not.

I’d like to think Senator Novstrup has found some moral consistency and will at least propose expanding the 14-point requirement to ballots, printed bills and amendments in the Legislature, the LRC website, veto statements, property tax statements, subpoenas, the font on the Attorney General’s phone so he can read more easily while driving….

…but I know better. When Al says “clean up!” he probably means he just plans another dirty trick on petitioners and other friends of people power.

Conference committee, Senate, House, this pause is your opportunity to come to your senses and trust the people, the way our Governor says you should, to do the right thing. Kill Senate Bill 77, let petitoners decide how they want their petitions to look, and let the people decide what they want to sign.

One Comment

  1. grudznick 2021-03-05

    Beware. Most assume Mr. Novstrup, the elder, is as canny as a fox, and they would be righter than right. However, I am hearing it is the very young and pretty Ms. Symens who is whispering the plan in Mr. Novstrup’s ear.

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