Laws hope to avoid ballot confusion


PIERRE – The last place anyone wants any confusion is on the ballot. HB1005 is designed to avoid confusion, though at least one opponent fears it may make voters vote “yes” when they mean to vote “no.”

The measure was passed unanimously Friday morning by the House State Affairs Committee. The bill seeks to enforce what a “yes” or “no” vote means on constitutional amendments, referred laws and initiated measures. 

The matter is fairly straightforward with constitutional amendments and initiated measures. A “yes” vote means that the amendment or measure shall become law; a “no” vote means that the constitution will stay as it is or that the initiated measure will fail.

In the case of referred laws – a ballot measure that seeks to overturn an action taken by the Legislature – a “yes” vote rejects the act of the Legislature while a “no” vote allows the act of the Legislature to become law. 

“People are voting yes to say no and no to say yes,” said Rebecca Terk, lobbyist for Dakota Rural Action, who spoke in opposition to the bill. “We do think this could lead to some confusion at the ballot box.”

The bill is part of a package of legislation proposed by the Initiative and Referendum Task Force that met this past summer to revise voting laws. 

Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, a member of that task force, said the bill brings neutrality to the language applied to ballot measures. Bolin said voters are deciding “should the referral be maintained or the act of the Legislature be maintained.”

The original bill from the task force had an implementation date of July 1, 2019. Bolin explained that the task force did not want the new language to interfere with any ballot measures headed for a vote this November. 

The measure was amended to take effect in 2018. Asked by Rep. Spencer Hawley, D-Brookings, if the date change would have an effect on current ballot measures, committee chairman Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center said, “This is a good way to find out.”

The committee also gave unanimous support to HB1006 which details the time allowed for the Legislative Research Council to comment on ballot measures. The bill seeks to give LRC 15 working days to provide comments on the ballot measure, though those comments do not have to be heeded by the ballot initiative organizers. 

The measure also says that ballot measures submitted to the LRC from Dec. 1 through the end of the legislative session will not have to be completed until 15 days after the last day of the session.

Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, said that LRC has the smallest staff of its kind in the nation and needs the time to do its work for the Legislature as well as offer substantive advice on the way ballot measures are written. 

Mitch Richter, a lobbyist for Represent South Dakota, said excusing LRC from doing its ballot work in December added too much time to the process. If a ballot measure needed a substantive rewrite, Richter said, he could see the entire process taking six months. 

“It seems like an awfully long time,” Richter said. “To throw December in there makes it problematic.”

Terk also opposed the schedule for LRC work on ballot initiatives as not many ballot measures make their way to LRC during the session.

“We feel this is really taking away from the people’s process,” Terk said. 

Nesiba said LRC would still try to do its work on ballot initiatives in December and during the legislative session, however the LRC did not want to be in violation of the statute if it was not able to complete its work in 15 days. 

Both measures now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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