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Lawmakers ask voters to make constitution harder to change

February 27, 2018

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota voters will decide in November if the state constitution should be harder to change.

The House of Representatives voted 55-9 Tuesday to send the constitutional amendment to the fall ballot. It asks voters to increase the majority vote threshold required for a constitutional change to 55 percent of the votes cast on the amendment.

Supporters say it’s designed to add an additional safeguard for the state constitution. Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, its sponsor, told a Senate panel last month that it’s a “legitimate and desirable method of protecting our fundamental political document.”

Colorado, Florida and New Hampshire have thresholds ranging from 55 percent to two-thirds support required for voters to approve constitutional changes.

Democrats have opposed the push in South Dakota. Critics contend the amendment could hamper direct democracy in the state, which in 1898 became the first in the nation to adopt citizen initiatives.

Darrell Solberg, a volunteer with a coalition opposing restrictions on the ballot question process, said lawmakers seem to be in a “power struggle to make it more difficult for the citizens to have input in the political process.”

“I feel if the voters honestly understand that it is going to curtail some of their power and freedom, they will be against it,” said Solberg, who is also co-chair of Represent South Dakota, a group attempting to pass a citizens’ amendment that would install protections for ballot questions in the constitution.

Republicans have discussed changes to the ballot question system after the 2016 election season brought 10 questions and millions of dollars from out-of-state groups. A task force on the initiative process endorsed the amendment after Bolin proposed a similar measure during the 2017 legislative session that was set aside in committee.

The Legislature this year has proposed other measures that would make it more difficult for voters to pass citizens’ initiatives and constitutional changes. A bill to restrict the flow of money from outside South Dakota into the state’s ballot question campaigns is scheduled to be debated in a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Some have been shelved, including measures that would have ended voters’ ability to bypass the Legislature to amend the state constitution and required ballot measure campaigns to collect signatures from a majority of state Senate districts when gathering names to qualify for the ballot.

Meanwhile, supporters of the new constitutional protections for ballot measures are competing against the lawmakers who would curtail them.

Represent South Dakota’s amendment would prevent the Legislature from altering or rejecting laws approved by voters. The group’s plan would also prevent lawmakers from changing the ballot question process without a public vote. It’s slated to appear on the November ballot alongside the Legislature’s proposal.

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