Ballot Measures for the upcoming General Election

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South Dakota voters have a chance to weigh in on five ballot measures during the upcoming General Election.  South Dakota was the first state to allow for citizen initiative, and we are among the minority of states that currently allow the process.  We are also among the minority of states that allow citizens to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

This creates another opportunity for citizen input to our laws and Constitution.  It also confers greater responsibility for researching the various measures and understanding the implications of what they would do if passed.

With that in mind, here is a brief look at each of the measures.

Amendment W would add an entirely new section to our State Constitution that declares superiority over all other sections of the constitution.  It would create a new non-elected board of seven people, not answerable to the voters or anyone else, with broad powers to investigate allegations of impropriety by any candidate for office, any state or local elected official, and any public employee, from the Governor’s office down to the smallest special purpose district.

The amendment is brought by a group called “Represent US” based in Florence, Massachusetts, stating it is needed to fight corruption at all levels of government.  It is opposed by more than 30 statewide organizations over concerns about its unprecedented ability to supersede the rest of the constitution.

Amendment X was put on the ballot by the state Legislature.  It would require a 55% voter approval to make future amendments to our state Constitution.  The current threshold for amending the constitution is 50% plus one.  Proponents suggest that making changes to our state government’s foundational document should have a higher standard than a simple majority.  Opponents point out that it is already difficult to amend the constitution, that it will not necessarily protect South Dakota from “bad” amendments, and that it would make it even more difficult to fix the constitution if a flawed amendment received voter approval.

Amendment Z was also put on the ballot by the state Legislature.  It would restrict future constitutional amendments to a single subject.  Proponents believe that amending the constitution should be done very carefully, in a specific and targeted manner.  Opponents point to the difficulty in gathering signatures to get a citizen-initiated amendment on the ballot, and forcing petition-gatherers to separate obviously related subjects into multiple amendments wastes time and money.

Initiated Measure 24 would ban out-of-state contributions to ballot measures.  Proponents argue that the right to propose ballot measures should be protected for South Dakotans, and that our state should not be a testing ground for political ideas from out-of-state interests.  Opponents point out that it is impossible to ban in-state entities from receiving and spending out-of-state money, and that South Dakotans are astute enough to decide whether to buy into messages from out-of-state groups.

Initiated Measure 25 would increase the tobacco tax to help fund technical institutes.  Proponents estimate it would raise an estimated $25 million, with $20 million directed to reducing tuition at the state’s technical institutes.  Opponents point out that it is a significant tax increase that does not restrict state officials from diverting those funds elsewhere.  It also ignores other educational needs and does not encourage efficiencies.

The complete text of each proposed measure is available on the Secretary of State’s website at:  sdsos.gov under the “Elections & Voting” tab.  You can also find a Ballot Question Pamphlet on that website, which contains the Attorney General’s explanation as well as the proponent and opponent statement for each measure.

The old adage about food safety – if in doubt, throw it out – can also be applied to ballot measures.  If you are unsure whether a proposal is good or bad, the safest thing to do is vote “no.”

Ensuring the public has access to government information

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Amendment W on the November ballot is brought by “Represent US,” a Massachusetts-based group that thinks we need to amend our state Constitution to stop corruption in Pierre.  Some political candidates are also campaigning on a platform that revolves around the idea that they need to be sent to the Capitol to stop corruption in Pierre.

It makes for an easy campaign slogan…but is it true?

Many steps have been taken over the past few years to make sure the public has easy access to government information.

  • The South Dakota Transparency Website at open.sd.gov is a great starting point. This website contains links to the state payroll, the state checkbook, contracts and grants, and the state budget.
  • The Department of Legislative Audit (DLA) has extensive reports about the finances of the state, counties, municipalities, schools, special districts, regional railroad authorities, and pool arrangements. DLA has authority to audit any state officer, department, agency, board or commission, and any political subdivision.  The DLA website (legislativeaudit.sd.gov) has a “red flag” option for anyone to report suspected fraud, noncompliance, or abuse.  Allegations may be submitted anonymously.
  • Allegations about Medicaid fraud are submitted to the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit at atg.sd.gov.
  • The activities of the state’s various boards and commissions can also be found online, including agendas, minutes, board members, and related documents. For many boards and commissions, you can even listen to the board meeting online as it happens.  Visit boardsandcommissions.sd.gov to learn more.
  • In the 2017 Session, the legislature established a Government Accountability Board to review and investigate allegations of financial impropriety by any person holding a statewide office and employees of the executive branch. The scope of the board’s responsibilities, as well as a complaint form, are also at boardsandcommissions.sd.gov.
  • Political candidates are required to file campaign finance reports with the Secretary of State. Those reports are posted online, as well as elected officials’ conflict of interest and financial interest statements.  Political action committees are also required to file financial reports.  These documents can be viewed at sdsos.gov.

There are ways for South Dakotans to make sure state and local governments are honestly doing the public’s business. Everyone has access to information about how tax moneys are being spent.  Everyone has an open invitation to look into the activities of boards and commissions.  Everyone can see how political campaigns are being funded, and whether public officials have a potential conflict of interest on a topic.

And if something is amiss, by all means please report those concerns so they can be investigated and addressed.  I invite any questions about the specifics of recently passed legislation concerning corruption or about how to report issues!