Friday, September 16, 2016

SD Ballot Measures Take Center Stage in Fall Campaign

As another Election season swings into full gear, Direct Democracy is taking center stage in South Dakota.

Money is pouring in from coast-to-coast to support or defeat 10 ballot measures being presented to voters this fall. Many of the political ads competing for your attention in the coming weeks will be paid for by out-of-state interests, from National payday lending companies to a California billionaire backing crime victims rights.

Voters will have a chance to undo the Legislature's actions on Election reform and youth minimum wage, as well as create new laws or amendments previously dismissed by Elected officials. Others are raising topics seemingly taboo in Pierre.

"It was incredibly obvious to me and others that they wouldn't touch this thing willingly," Rick Knobe said of the Amendment he's working to pass that would create Non-Partisan Primary elections.

Doug Sombke, President of the South Dakota Farmers Union, is leading a push to take away the Legislature's authority to Re-Draw Voting Districts and instead establish an independent group to make redistricting decisions. "As long as I've been president we've tried to get a bill passed," Sombke said. "The legislators in Pierre just wouldn't budge on it."

South Dakota in 1898 became the first to allow voters to pass and veto laws on the ballot. Since then, citizens have submitted proposed laws and Constitutional Amendments or referred Approved Legislation for a veto by voters. With enough approved signatures, citizens have been able to make and withdraw law.

The questions give people who say they're frustrated with Government a different way to participate.

"For a time in which people are complaining about the inefficiency of government and the lack of trust with legislators, this is a more direct process," Augustana University Political Science Professor Emily Wanless said.

And there's plenty of frustration to go around this season.

The 10 ballot measures on this November's slate are the most in a decade. The 2006 election featured 11. The State saw its highest number of ballot questions slated a century ago when voters saw 14 on the 1916 ticket.

The full slate of ballot measures is attracting money and attention from outside groups who share or oppose backers' frustrations.

Don Frankenfeld, Chair of South Dakotans for Integrity, wants voters to endorse an overhaul of the State's Campaign Finance and Political Ethics systems. He said the measure stemmed from efforts to get the Legislature to bring back an Ethics Board and to revise Campaign Finance law.

The initiated measure has been a lightning rod for outside money, drawing interest from conservative billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch. "The Koch brothers have done us sort of a favor by escalating this in voters' consciousness," Frankenfeld said. "Hopefully we'll stand out on the ballot."

Ben Lee, State Director of Americans for Prosperity and Chair of Defeat 22, said he hopes the measure will stand out on the ballot too, but for a different reason. The Defeat 22 Campaign has bought radio ads, released mailers and inundated voters with the message, "Vote No on IM 22." Lee said South Dakotans should question the measure's origins.

"To say that this is homegrown is disingenuous," Ben Lee said. "Measure 22 did not originate from frustrated lawmakers in Pierre, it originated from a group called Represent Us in Massachusetts that is trying to pass this measure anywhere they can get it on the ballot."

It's not surprising that the number of ballot questions are up in a Presidential Election year, said Richard Braunstein, a Political Science Professor at the University of South Dakota, said. The questions represent a good opportunity for statewide discussion. "To have more institutions and more actors involved," Braunstein said, "that's a good thing for democracy in South Dakota."

CLICK HERE for more information on the 10 measures certified to appear on the South Dakota ballot on November 8, 2016.

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