Amendment T Changes How Legislative Maps Are Drawn

Aug 12, 2016

State legislative district three is an example proponents of Amendment T use to say the ballot measure is needed. District three encapsulates most of Aberdeen, but not all.
Credit sdlegislature.gov

Amendment T is a ballot measure that strips the authority of the legislature to establish voting districts every ten years. It establishes a redistricting commission in place of the legislature.

Proponents say it improves the way legislative maps are drawn. Opponents say the system already works well.

According to the state constitution, the South Dakota legislature must redraw legislative districts every ten years. Amendment T moves that authority from state lawmakers to a 9-member independent commission.

That commission is composed of three democrats, three republicans and three independents. Those members must be registered as such for three straight years. Commission members may also not have held office three years before or after redrawing the legislative map.

Jason Ravmsborg is with a group that opposes Amendment T. He says the current system works well and the group promoting the amendment is putting forth a ballot measure in search of a problem…

“They don’t believe that they are either competent or capable or are in some way biased in drawing the lines," Ravmsborg says. "I believe that we are a democracy and we have the ability to regulate that by the ballot box. If we don’t like how they’ve done that, along with anything else, we can vote them out of office. Whereas, if you set up this independent commission we don’t really have much of a say on if we remove them.”

Ravmsborg says he’s also concerned with the cost of an independent commission.  

But Matt Sibley, with a coalition in favor of Amendment T, says the commission would cost less because it involves fewer people.  He says it’s important to create a commission independent of the legislature to draw district boundaries based on neighborhoods, not political parties…

“We have the safeguards within the language that says you can’t look at political party identification, you can’t look at incumbency," Sibley says. "So, those types of safeguards, a balanced committee, everything in Amendment T is meant to make it as neutral as possible, as non-partisan as can be practical. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about Amendment T is that it’s an attempt by one political party to wage war against another.”

If passed, the commission will redistrict the legislative map in 2017 and again in 2021. From there, every ten years the map is redrawn. Before a map gets approved, the commission must present a draft for public comment.