Dakotans for Health, the ballot question committee sponsoring Initiated Measure 28, pays me for a variety of work. Dakotans for Health is not paying for this blog post.
By the skin of their progressive teeth, Dakotans for Health has qualified its initiative to expand Medicaid for the November ballot. Dakotans for Health submitted its initiative petition on May 3 with, by its count, over 23,000 signatures, 36% more than the 16,961 required to put initiated laws to a statewide vote. Yesterday, the Secretary of State’s office finished its review of a random sample of signatures and reported that the petition has an estimated 17,249 valid signatures:
- Signatures submitted: 23,228
- Random sample size required by ARSD 05:02:08:00.05: 711
- Number of signatures found valid in sample: 528
- Validity rate of signatures in sample: 74.26%
- Estimated number of valid signatures submitted: 17,249
- Signatures required to qualify: 16,961
- D4H’s signatures to spare above minimum threshold: 288—1.7%!
If the Secretary had found nine more bum signatures in that sample, the petition would have been toast. That’s a tight margin!
Any grinches wishing to test that margin have until Monday, July 11, to challenge that validation by submitting an affidavit (in hard copy!) and evidence to the Secretary of State’s office. As with Initiated Measure 27 (the marijuana decriminalization measure whose SOS challenge deadline is June 27), challenges submitted to the Secretary of State’s office may only deal with the facial completeness of the sheets included in the random sample and the existence of the sampled signers in the voter registration file (SDCL 2-1-17.1). Folks with other complaints about the petition have to take their case to the Sixth Circuit Court in Pierre (SDCL 2-1-18). Court challengers need to hurry: the Secretary of State has to certify copies of all ballot questions to county auditors by August 16 and deliver printed ballots to all auditors by September 21.
The validation of Initiated Measure 28 means voters will get to cast two votes on Medicaid expansion this November: Amendment D, sponsored by South Dakota’s big hospitals and their allies, would write a practically identical Medicaid expansion provision into the South Dakota Constitution. Despite the ongoing resistance of South Dakota’s Legislature, big majorities of South Dakota voters—Democratic, independent, and Republican—support Medicaid expansion. Voters also just finished handing Republican saboteurs their posteriors on primary platters Tuesday with the resounding rejection of Amendment C, the Legislature’s attempt to sandbag the initiative process by raising the vote threshold for fiscal measures like Medicaid expansion from simple majority to 60%. Both the AARP poll on Medicaid expansion and the rejection of Amendment C’s attempted sabotage of that policy indicate South Dakota voters are highly likely to do what their elected legislators refuse to do (which is exactly why we have the check and balance of initiative!) and vote to expand Medicaid this fall.
But why two measures? The one key difference between the two measures is that Initiated Measure 28 writes Medicaid expansion into state law while Amendment D writes it into the state constitution. Rick Weiland, co-founder of Dakotans for Health and chief sponsor of Initiated Measure 28, tells the press that his committee “encourage[s] voters to vote for both the initiated law, IM 28 and the constitutional amendment, Amendment D,” but they recognize that some constitutional purists maintain that the constitution is for general governing principles, not specific policy. Some South Dakota voters believe we have to bend that principle: the only way to insulate a popular measure from Legislative tinkering or outright repeal is to place that measure in the Constitution, which can only be changed by a vote of the people. Still, some significant fraction of voters may cling to their ideal, a perfectly valid theory about the purpose of a constitution, against the practical extremes to which South Dakota’s clubby, privilege-sensitive Legislature pushes the electorate. IM 28 is the back-up plan, ensuring that constitutional purism doesn’t thwart the long-delayed expansion of Medicaid to provide affordable health coverage to 42,500 South Dakotans.
Amendment D and Initiated Measure 28 may both be on their way to big majority votes, but why take chances on just one measure that a significant fraction of voters may reject? Dakotans for Health takes the belt-and-suspenders approach, offering voters a chance to shout Yes! twice at the Legislature.