Bill Seeks To Clarify Referred Law Ballot Questions, Critics Say It Doesn't

Jan 12, 2018

Credit Jenifer Jones / SDPB


The House State Affairs committee is passing a bill that seeks to clear up any confusion surrounding ballot measure questions.

One critic of the bill says the change creates a system where a yes vote means no -- and vice versa -- for one particular ballot question.

Referred laws can be confusing.

In essence, the constitutional provision allows the citizens of South Dakota to put a recently passed state law on pause, and overturn the legislature and governor’s vote.

House Bill 1005 is meant to give direction to the Attorney General in how to word those questions.

State Senator Jim Bolin says the main goal of the bill is for neutral statements about referred law ballot questions.

“That’s always the part that’s most difficult,” Bolin says. “Because the real question is are you voting on the original bill, or are you voting on the referral of that measure to the ballot? That’s the question.”

This bill says voters will vote on the referral.

As it is currently, voters vote on the question.

Cory Heidelberger, of Aberdeen, writes for the Dakota Free Press, a liberal blog focused on South Dakota issues. He successfully referred two laws the legislature passed during the last election.

Heidelberger says voting ‘yes’ to reject something, or voting ‘no’ to allow something, is backwards.

“It’s an effort to get the wiggle room, or potential for abuse, out of initiative and referendum law. And while I appreciate that, the referendum provision is backwards," Heidelberger says. "It’s confusing, it’s illogical, and it’s a sneaky way for Republicans to keep people from referring the bad laws they keep foisting on us.”

The proposed change to ballot question verbiage came out of a summer study committee that looked at the initiative and referendum process in South Dakota. Several bills aimed at that process are in the hopper this session.