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HB 1200: Require Citizens to Collect 1,000 Signatures from Each Legislative District to Put Constitutional Amendments to Statewide Vote

The South Dakota Republican Party’ latest attack on direct democracy is House Bill 1200, which would impose a geographical quota on petition signatures to place citizen-sponsored constitutional amendments on the ballot.

HB 1200, prime-sponsored by Representative Liz May (R-27/Kyle) appends her geographical quota to SDCL 2-1-1, which currently deals only with the 5% signature requirement for initiated laws. HB 1200 leaves that signature requirement alone (although LRC inserts some style and form changes) but adds two new sentences to the statute to address initiated constitutional amendments. The first sentence is completely unnecessary:

A constitutional amendment proposed by initiative may only be presented by a petition signed by qualified voters equal in number to at least ten percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the last gubernatorial election [HB 1200, as filed 2023.01.31].

This sentence restates the 10% requirement already prescribed by Article 23 Section 1 of the South Dakota Constitution:

An amendment proposed by initiative shall require a petition signed by qualified voters equal in number to at least ten percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the last gubernatorial election [SD Const., Art. 23 Sec. 1].

The first new sentence of HB 1200 thus achieves nothing but inflating the law books. Come on, Liz—I thought you conservatives were all about getting rid of unnecessary text in the law books!

HB 1200’s second sentence is the killer:

No more than one-thirty-fifth of the number of signatures required to propose a constitutional amendment by initiative may be counted from any one legislative district [HB 1200, 2023.01.31].

Currently, citizens interested in amending their state constitution must collect the signatures of 35,017 registered voters, 10% of the 2022 gubernatorial vote, to put their proposed amendment to a statewide vote. Those signatures may come from voters who reside anywhere in the state.

South Dakota Legislative Districts, Sparrow Map, approved November 2021.
Want to amend the South Dakota Constitution? HB 1200 says go get 1,000 signatures from each blob on this map. South Dakota Legislative Districts, Sparrow Map, approved November 2021. Retrieved from SDLRC, Find My Legislators, 2023.02.12.

HB 1200 changes that, requiring that the petition include 1,000 signatures from District 1 in northeastern South Dakota, 1,000 signatures from District 2 down in southeastern Minnehaha County, 1,000 signatures from District 3 in the Aberdeen metro area… and so on, and so on, until—

Wait a minute: the math doesn’t work. If we divide the current constitutional requirement of 35,017 signatures by 35, we get 1,000.49. 1,000 would be less than 1/35 of the number of signatures required. 1,001 would be more than 1/35 of the number of signatures required. HB 1200 says we can’t count more than 1/35 of the number of signatures required from any one Legislative district. Therefore, we have to stop counting at exactly 1,000 from each district. Exactly 1,000 signatures from 35 districts add up to exactly 35,000 signatures, 17 short of the constitutionally mandated and (under HB 1200) statutorily repeated minimum signature requirement.

Dang. I was ready to go into all the reasons that requiring 1,000 signatures from every Legislative district would make collecting signatures for a citizen constitutional amendment impractically expensive, that it would require the Secretary of State to abandon the statistical sampling method of checking just 720-some signatures for valid registration and instead review every signature for district status (you can’t get the statutorily mandated 95% confidence level by randomly pulling just 720 signatures and seeing if you miraculously pulled 20 or 21 signatures from each of 35 districts), that legislators don’t have to get one sponsor from each district to put a bill up for consideration in Pierre (May only scrounged up co-sponsors from seven other districts, and two of her sponsors come from District 3, so one of them, Perry or Novstrup, shouldn’t count), that we don’t require candidates for Governor or Congress to get 1/35 of their nominating petition signatures from each Legislative district, and that a by-district geographical quota violates “one person, one vote” and would be thrown out in court.

But Representative May’s typical Republican infacility with arithmetic has obviated the need for me to make all those practical, political, and Constitutional arguments. HB 1200 makes petitioning for a vote on a constitutional amendment literally, mathematically impossible. HB 1200 says I can only get 1,000 signatures from each of our 35 Legislative districts on my amendment petition. I need 35,017 signatures to put an amendment to a vote. HB 1200 leaves me with no place to get those last 17 signatures.

Representative May and her exclusively Republican co-sponsors probably didn’t notice that problem… although I suspect they wouldn’t mind at all if they could make it impossible for citizens to propose amendments. After all, that is the Republicans’ ultimate intent: to make the petition process so cumbersome that grassroots groups cannot make their voices heard, and citizens will completely surrender lawmaking to the Club in Pierre.

p.s.: HB 1200, if passed, would take effect this July 1, in the middle of at least one and possibly four citizen amendment petition drives. Petition sponsors currently focused on the usual, practical strategy of collecting signatures at the major population centers where people are actually out walking around downtown and at big events in Sioux Falls and Rapid City would have to restructure their circulation strategy and could see thousands of valid signatures already legally collected thrown out by HB 1200’s absurd and unconstitutional geographical quota.

pp.s: Geographical quotas for petition signatures have failed in previous Sessions:

  • 2016 HB 1241: Then-Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) proposed limiting voters from the five most populous counties to providing 50% of the signatures on initiative and referendum petitions (but no limit on big-town signers of citizen amendment petitions). Bolin withdrew the proposal in House State Affairs.
  • 2017 HB 1153: Rep. Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham) proposed requiring that 50% of initiative and referendum petition signatures (but, like Bolin’s ploy, not for citizen amendment petitions) come from at least half of South Dakota’s 66 counties. House State Affairs killed this bill 11–1 after Secretary of State Shantel Krebs herself testified that it was a bad idea.
  • 2018 HB 1275: Rep. Steven Haugaard (R-10/Sioux Falls) proposed requiring signatures from at least two-thirds of all Legislative districts to place initiatives and referenda (but again, not citizen amendments) on the ballot. This monster bill also included unworkable requirements that circulators of any ballot measure petition, including amendments, reside in their Senate district for 90 days before collecting signatures and that they only collect signatures from people who live in their Senate district. HB 1275 survived House State Affairs with significant amendment but received the death it deserved from the full House on a 20–45 vote.


  1. Mark Anderson 2023-02-12 09:23

    Just bow to the will of your leaders and enjoy the superbowl. As long as there’s no kneeling

  2. buckobear 2023-02-12 11:10

    It really doesn’t matter. Anything approved by the people through initiative will be trashed by the ledge if it threatens the established power structure.
    Why do we approve matters that benefit the citizens and still elect “representatives” who work to destroy them??

  3. Drey Samuelson 2023-02-12 11:28

    Thanks for drawing attention to this, Cory–it’s a blatant and naked attempt to cripple the ballot initiative process in South Dakota and needs to be opposed with everything that the collective “we” can muster…

  4. Donald Pay 2023-02-12 12:18

    This idea goes back to the 1980s. There has never been a reason for it other than to negate the constitutional provisions of the Legislative Branch, which specifically includes the people.

    This would have to be done by constitutional amendment, not by bill. The current constitutional language would not allow this change to be done via a bill and survive a court challenge.

    Here is current constitutional language from Article XXIII, 1:

    Amendments. Amendments to this Constitution may be proposed by initiative or by a majority vote of all members of each house of the Legislature. An amendment proposed by initiative shall require a petition signed by qualified voters equal in number to at least ten percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the last gubernatorial election. The petition containing the text of the proposed amendment and the names and addresses of its sponsors shall be filed at least one year before the next general election at which the proposed amendment is submitted to the voters. A proposed amendment may amend one or more articles and related subject matter in other articles as necessary to accomplish the objectives of the amendment; however, no proposed amendment may embrace more than one subject. If more than one amendment is submitted at the same election, each amendment shall be so prepared and distinguished that it can be voted upon separately.

  5. Richard Schriever 2023-02-12 14:03

    Repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Consent of the Governed Act:

    “Any initiated act or Constitutional Amendment passed by a direct vote of the people, shall not be nullified or altered or amended in any way by any means other to a direct vote of the people.”

  6. All Mammal 2023-02-12 15:40

    It must be done, Mr. Schriever. It makes sense to initiate that act while, or better yet- before we push to codify Roe. We need to have the insurance thanks to our ganky leg. and David Kiresch wannabe SOS.

    Pardon me, Ms. May- please do not oppress the citizens of SD. Instead, you should try rearing boys who don’t become men who go running around raping women. That is much more of a concern to the public you work for than the straight up claptrap and hokum you have produced thus far. I will be sure to inform as many of your constituents what you are conniving face-to-face. See you around.

  7. Donald Pay 2023-02-12 16:04

    They can pass HB 1200, and it will be ruled unconstitutional. The SD Constitution says 10 percent. That’s it. There can be no county signature requirement absent a change in the SD Constitution. It may take a court case, however, and the lawless Republican Party is well practiced in passing unconstitutional laws in order to put hurdles in the way of the people’s rights.

  8. 96Tears 2023-02-12 16:57

    IMHO, this looks like Amendment C all over again, but with a long game strategy.

    They might be running it up the flag pole now to see who salutes, energize the base and create the narrative to prepare a constitutional amendment campaign after HB 1200 gets gunned down in court. Will they pull the sneaky crap again by putting a constitutional amendment on a primary ballot like they did last year? That suppression gimmick backfired badly.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-02-12 18:09

    Donald, does Article 23 Section 1 preclude additional requirements? Art 23 Sec 1 says “qualified voters equal in number to at least ten percent…”. “At least” seems to set a floor, not a cap. Could we hoghouse HB 1200 to raise the percentage to 15% or 20% and still satisfy the constitutional requirement of “at least” 10%?

    Additionally, the Constitution does not define “qualified voters”. It would seem that statute can step in and define that term to further narrow the petition-signers pool. HB 1200 doesn’t clearly take this route, but it seems the Constitution leaves the door open for statute to establish criteria for “qualified voters”, like geographical quotas.

    I’m not advocating for any restriction of initiated amendments; I’m just saying that the Legislature may have room to tinker with the process statutorily.

    But the constitutional challenge to the geographical quota comes not from the SD Constitution but the US Constitution, which will toss HB 1200 for violating the Fourteenth Amendment principle of “one person, one vote”, as occurred in Semple v Williams (2018).

  10. grudznick 2023-02-12 18:14

    grudznick is with Mr. Anderson on this one.

  11. Donald Pay 2023-02-12 22:21

    Cory, Huh? They can’t tinker with the plain meaning of words. Well, they can, but they will lose.

    This is the sentence you refer to: “An amendment proposed by initiative shall require a petition signed by qualified voters equal in number to at least ten percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the last gubernatorial election.” You can stretch it however you want in fantasyland, and I’m sure there might be some drugged up law-yers who might argue it, and there are certainly enough dumb legislators who will pick that argument up and run with it, but the amendment clearly refers to the number of signatures of qualified voters. Yes, “qualified voters” is undefined. In reality “South Dakota registered voters ” is what is used, which, for all intents and purposes is who is qualified to vote in South Dakota. So, really, it means the same thing.

    The petition may contain more signatures, but it requires “at least ten percent….” to qualify as a proposed amendment. You have to understand this wording was constructed back in the day before they sampled signatures. The procedure back then was to count up to the number of valid signatures required by the constitution, and then they stopped counting. Why strain the eyes beyond the legal limit? As long as the petition had the required number of signatures it qualified, but the petition could have an uncounted cushion. It’s pretty clear to me.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-02-13 06:54

    Donald, I worry that “at least” sets a floor but not a ceiling. It appears to leave the door open for the Legislature to set a higher threshold. TO prohibit a higher threshold, the constitution would have to say “no more than 10%”.

  13. Donald Pay 2023-02-13 09:30

    Cory, Nope. The wording is clear. There must be at least the legal number of signatures on the petition. That number is 10 percent of the votes cast for governor. Period.

  14. Donald Pay 2023-02-13 10:44

    Cory, the provisions you are questioning was submitted by the Constitutional Revision Commission in 1972. I remember vaguely the discussion of this and other amendments on the ballot that year as it was the first presidential election I could vote in. There were several other amendments submitted by the Constitutional Revision Commission that year. I spent some time studying these, and looked up the AG’s explanation that year. It did not include any discussion of any other possible interpretation of the “at least” phrase than I have discussed, and I don’t remember any. I know there was some concern expressed by some folks that the state was opening up the Constitution to the initiative. I can’t remember how I voted on this, but I remember generally supporting the Constitutional Revision Commission’s proposals.

    At any rate, I’m sure that if you read up on the Constitutional Revision Committee’s proceedings you will be disabused of your concerns over the “at least” phrase.

  15. ABC 2023-02-13 17:16

    Since the Republicans are so arithmetically challenged, here’s the obvious answer-

    Set up dozens of Arithmetic Labs in all Legislative districts. Hundreds of them.

    Arithmetic Labs or ALs would be very super responsive to the people for creating mathematical, software, hardware, and new idea products to turbo charge our economy and our lives here.

    Why wait for a Legislature or Governor or Silicon Valley dude to show up?

    We can show up 7 days a week in our South Dakota based Arithmetic Labs and create Answers and create what we need!

    Why outsource the handling of our economic and social problems to a bumbling Legislature , a publicity seeking wannabe VP Governor occupant, or huge Fortune 500 companies who may or may not create jobs here?

    Don’t outsource. Insource! Arithmetic Labs today, tomorrow and always!

    How? Steve Jobs helped create the huge Apple Corporation in the 1970s, now a multi trillion dollar company that creates leading products, phone and computers. At his funeral, he gifted many copies of Autobiography of a Yogi by Parahansa Yogananda.

    We can Read that book and also create companies and projects as great as Steve Jobs did.

    Certainly that is more exciting and fun than the alternative-doing nothing.

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