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SF Chamber Voting NO on C—Who Says How Much Initiatives Cost, and When?

The out-of-state pro-plutocracy group Americans for Prosperity is driving the campaign for Amendment C, the 60% vote threshold that is our Republican Party’s latest ploy in its total war on democracy. But South Dakota’s moneyed elites aren’t as sure they want billionaires and their SDGOP puppets to take away our right to vote on initiatives. The Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce is urging South Dakotans to vote No on Amendment C on June 7:

The Board of Directors for the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce has adopted a position of opposition to the proposed Constitutional Amendment C. The Chamber urges a “no” vote on Amendment C on the 2022 primary election ballot.

Amendment C seeks to raise the threshold of voter approval needed for certain ballot measures from 50 percent plus-one to a higher threshold requirement of three-fifths (60%) voter approval. It was placed on the June 2022 primary ballot by the state legislature.

In voting to oppose Amendment C, the Board expressed three concerns with the issue:

  1. The amendment makes it more difficult for the people of South Dakota to pass ballot measures. Historically, ballot measures rarely receive over 60% voter support.
  2. Political maneuvering resulted in the placement of the question on the primary ballot, where voter turnout is typically less than half of the turnout in a general election. Essentially, the legislature wants fewer voters to weigh in on this question.
  3. There will likely be some unforeseen impact if the amendment passes, due to language that is overly broad in some sections, yet very limiting in others [Jennie Doyen, “Chamber Opposes Amendment C,” Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, 2022.05.11].

The Sioux Falls Chamber’s third point is a bit muddled—Amendment C contains only two sections, one setting the vote on C for Primary Day 2022, the other providing the actual language of the 60% vote threshold in a single sentence. But the Chamber gives an example of the breadth and inclarity of C’s language in its issue brief:

Moreover, which branch of government would determine if the appropriation clause required a 60% voter threshold prior to the election? [GSFCC, issue brief, retrieved 2022.05.19]

That is an excellent question: who decides if an initiative will spend more than $10M and thus requires a 60% vote? Is the Legislative Research Council’s fiscal note binding? What if new data or new policy change the cost estimate between the time the LRC issues its fiscal note, possibly two years before the election, and the time the measure goes to a vote? What if the LRC gets the fiscal note wrong (and with a Kristi Noem tool running the shop, the chances of fishy math from the LRC are significant)? Can the LRC issue a new fiscal estimate that changes the required vote? Can proponents or opponents sue to overrule the LRC and get a judge to declare whether an initiative triggers Amendment C?

And is it possible that, whoever determines the cost of an initiative, we might not have a final answer before people start voting? Suppose the LRC estimates on November 15, 2022, that a proposed initiative will only require the state to spend $5 million in Fiscal Year 2026 and thus will not be subject to Amendment C’s 60% vote requirement. The sponsors say, “Great! Our polling shows we can clear 50% easily, but 60% might require more Get Out the Vote than our donors can support, so let’s proceed with the campaign!” The sponsors collect signatures, get their initiative on the ballot, see through their polling they have steady 55% support, and spend commensurately on their canvassing and advertising. On Election Day, November 5, 2024, they win that 55% vote, and their initiative is slated to become law July 1, 2025. But the next day, the LRC or a judge says that the original fiscal note had an error and that the initiative will actually require the state to spend $11 million. Or on January 31, 2025, the Legislature passes a bill that increases supervision and reporting for state government and will add $6 million to the cost of enforcing the initiative. Before the initiative is enacted, we learn that it will cost more than $10 million. Will the Secretary of State be able to reverse the election result:  “We thought 50%+1 was good enough, but now that we know the real cost, the initiative had to have 60% to pass, and it only got 55%, so no initiative”?

As written, Amendment C leaves basic questions about who decides the cost of an initiative and when unanswered. Lacking answers to those questions, Amendment C on face is inadequate, problematic, and note ready for enactment. As the Sioux Falls Chamber says, Vote NO on C!

4 Comments

  1. Ryan 2022-05-19

    Also it’s more than one subject. It’s invalid. It will be tossed in court if it passes.

  2. leslie 2022-05-19

    Perhaps SD is merely a “Koch captured”—type of a little red state in the nation-wide Republican laboratory attack on democracy.

    Initiative and Referendum neutering.

  3. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-19

    Let the People Rule. Thanks Sioux Falls Chamber.

  4. Richard Schriever 2022-05-19

    I concur with Ryan’s position. C covers both voting and spending. 2 wildly different subjects.

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