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Voter May Decide On Constitutional Amendment Change

Lee Strubinger

A Senate committee is advancing a bill that increases the percentage vote needed to change the state’s constitution.

Critics say the increase makes it harder for South Dakotans to change their constitution.

Proponents say it protects the constitution from out of state interests.

If passed through the house and senate and signed by the governor, Senate Joint Resolution will ask voters to increase the required voting threshold for a constitutional change to 55 percent.

The resolution came out of a summer study committee that met over the summer.

State Senator Jim Bolin says it’s aimed at well funded interest groups that want to change the state’s political culture, but whose members aren’t willing to live in the state.

“There needs to be a higher threshold. Half of the states in the country don’t even have the ability to begin the process at all. South Dakota, we don’t want in any way to limit ballot access, and we’re not," Bolin says. "I do believe that there should be a higher standard of passage for a constitutional amendment than there would be for just a regular law.”

Currently, signature gatherers must collect enough signatures that equals 10 percent of the last gubernatorial election. That’s more than required for initiated measures and referred laws.

Rob Timm is with the Chiesman Center for Democracy, a non-profit and non-partisan organization that promotes civic education.

Timm says the resolution makes it more difficult for citizens to be a part of the process.

“You’ve got 28,000 signature that you need to get, but in reality that’s closer to about 50,000 signatures when you look at the random sampling, and things of that nature, that the secretary of state goes through," Timm says. "It’s just one of those things that we’re wondering what’s the problem now? We’re not sure where there’s currently an issue with regards to the 50 plus one percent.”

Timm says the resolution will disenfranchise signature gatherers and grassroots activists who want to change the state’s constitution.

The resolution passed out of Senate State Affairs on a 6 to 2 vote, with both Democrats on the committee voting against it. The resolution now heads to the Senate floor.