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The Case Against SB 166
Feb 4, 2015
When I judge high school policy debate, I expect the team proposing a plan (the Affirmative team) to prove four basic points:
- The current system (the “status quo”) has a significant problem.
- The status quo lacks a way to solve that problem.
- The Affirmative plan can solve that problem.
- The Affirmative plan won't create other, bigger problems.
The team opposing the plan and defending the status quo (the Negative team) can win by disproving (or showing that the Affirmative team has failed to prove) any one of those points.
Senator Corey Brown (R-Gettysburg) has proposed a plan, Senate Bill 166, to increase the number of signatures necessary to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot by 88 percent. A novice Negative team could destroy Senate Bill 166 on all four of the above points.
First, there is no problem. Why would we want to nearly double the number of signatures necessary for an initiative or referendum? By raising the signature threshold from 13,871 to 26,053, SB 166 would reduce the number of proposals that would successfully make the ballot, but do we have too many ballot measures right now? I see no sign that South Dakotans are harmed or annoyed by having the chance to exercise their constitutionally enshrined legislative power on the ballot measures that have come before them.
But suppose there were a problem. Suppose our initiative process is subject to manipulation from out-of-state special interest groups who see our small electorate and cheap media as an opportunity to test their wacky ballot measures. Arguably this happened in 2006, when fringy out-of-staters proposed the JAIL amendment, which would have paralyzed our courts and elected boards. The JAIL amendment was a terrible idea, and South Dakotans killed it 89 percent to 11 percent.
If there is a problem, the status quo already has a solution: elections. South Dakota voters don't need SB 166 to protect them from bad ideas.
Whatever problems we might posit in South Dakota's initiative and referendum, SB 166 wouldn't solve them. Increasing the signature threshold for ballot measures guarantees there will be fewer ballot measures. SB 166 would most likely block measures brought forward by freshly organizing South Dakotans who just want to solve a problem. SB 166 would make it harder for grassroots petitioners to succeed. Outside groups with money would just spend a little more money. SB 166 would thus result in a larger percentage of outside big-money measures co-opting our initiative and referendum, which is exactly the opposite of the result SB 166 may intend.
While SB 166 can't solve its imaginary problems, SB 166 would make one real problem worse. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs wants to reverse our declining voter turnout. She has dispatched her new public information officer, Jason Williams, to study how to engage more voters. SB 166 reduces the number of issues that could bring voters to the polls. SB 166 says to voters, “Don't vote so much; let the Legislature handle these things.” SB 166 disrespects and disengages voters and runs counter to the state's interest in encouraging more people to come to the polls.
Senate Bill 166 has no problem to solve. If there were a problem, the status quo could solve it, and SB 166 could not. SB 166 would only make things worse.
In high school debate, we'd say everything flows Neg. Even novice debaters can see that we have no good reason to increase the number of signatures necessary to let South Dakotans vote on initiatives and referenda.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman, near Madison. He studied math and history at South Dakota State University and information systems at Dakota State University. Heidelberger lives, writes and bikes in Aberdeen.