Homework: “Homework, I have discovered, involves a sharp pencil and thick books and long sighs.” – Katherine Applegate, author
As I left the Main Street business, I noticed two young men with clipboards.
They immediately caught my eye and approached, but in a friendly, laid-back manner. Would I sign a petition that changes the way South Dakota establishes its legislative district boundaries? Before I could reply, they emphasized that signing the petition didn’t mean I supported the constitutional amendment, only that South Dakota voters should be allowed to vote on it.
Voters needed this question placed before them, they said, because the present system is corrupt and disenfranchises certain voting segments.
Then it was my turn. Were they aware, I asked, that the state Legislature is required to follow federal law ensuring fairness to all voters? Did they know that when the Legislature redrew the state’s voting boundaries in 2011, it was because it needed to be in compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act? It was a case where federal oversight worked to the benefit of the people, though the end result was far from perfect.
“Sir,” one of the men said (I love it when someone calls me “sir”), “as stated before, your signature only means the issue will be placed on the ballot, not that you will vote for it.”
The deadline for collecting those signatures has come and gone, and now the secretary of state’s office is examining the petitions to make certain they are in order. If so, voters a year from now will decide eight ballot issues, so it’s fortunate indeed that we have adequate time to do our homework.
It is a daunting task, for those who take it seriously.
A look at the lineup:
— Legalize medical marijuana.
— Establish a new commission to draw up legislative districts.
— Increase the tobacco tax with proceeds going to the state’s technical schools.
— Establish open primaries, removing political labels.
— Prohibit out-of-state contributions to groups promoting ballot issues.
— Allow voting by mail.
— Limit amount a state agency may pay for prescription drugs.
— Change the state’s campaign and lobbying law.
The ability of South Dakota citizens to make significant changes, through the initiative and referendum process, is one of the best examples of democracy in action that we have in the United States. In fact, South Dakota made history by being the first state to install the initiative and referendum in 1898.
The vote, 23,816 to 16,483, wasn’t even close.
Nov. 15, 2017