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.
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.