Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. February 26, 2024.

Editorial: South Dakota Bill Seeks To Undercut Voters Again

There’s a memorable line from the graphic novel (and movie) “V for Vendetta” that declares, “The people should not fear their governments; the government should fear its people.”

One could argue that the latter may be the case in Pierre, as it appears some lawmakers once again don’t want to chance leaving a contentious issue to the voters.

House Bill 1244 would alter South Dakota’s initiated measure process by allowing people who have signed a petition to withdraw signatures from the petition, even after it has been submitted and validated, if the initiated measure is still eligible to be challenged through the Secretary of State’s office or on court appeal, according to South Dakota News Watch.

Tellingly, HB1244 also includes an emergency clause, which would allow the measure to take effect immediately.

This comes just as signatures are being collected for an initiated measure to enshrine expanded abortion rights in the state constitution.

What a coincidence.

Unfortunately, our lawmakers have a history of trying to undercut the will of voters.

As recently as 2022, for example, an effort was made via the proposed Amendment C to raise the level of approval from 50% plus one vote to three-fifths (60%) for any initiated measures that boost taxes or fees or required the state to commit $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years. This measure was put to a public vote in the June 2022 primary ahead of the initiated fall 2022 vote on Amendment D, which called for Medicaid expansion. Amendment C proponents admitted they were pushing their proposal in June with the Medicaid initiated measure in mind. In other words, they were looking for a way to tamper with the democratic process by giving more power to the minority to thwart the will of the majority. They failed, as expansion passed by a 56%-44% margin.

To an extent, HB1244 is of a similar vein.

This comes amid claims by HB1244 proponents of wrongdoing by petition circulators. Proponents have “played videos purporting to show proof of unattended (abortion) petitions, which would violate state law, and of circulators providing misleading information to the public,” according to the News Watch story.

In response, Rick Weiland, executive director for Dakotans for Health, the group conducting the petition drive, said their petition circulators are trained to follow state law in such matters.

If HB1244 passes and is signed into law, it will likely be challenged in court, according to a legal counsel for Dakotans for Health.

A similar effort was attempted in Florida in 2010 but was declared unconstitutional by that state’s Supreme Court, which noted that such signature revocation would likely be politically motivated and not “neutral and non-discriminatory protection of citizens’ interests,” News Watch reported.

On the other hand, four other states — California, Idaho, Utah and Washington — had a codified process in place for revoking petition signatures.

In South Dakota’s case, this appears to be an effort to gut a measure that might well succeed in a November vote, if recent results elsewhere around the country are any guide. Thanks to a 2005 trigger law, current South Dakota law reverted after the 2022 Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade to a more stringent reading that makes it a felony for anyone “who administers to any pregnant female or prescribes or procures for any pregnant female” anything that serves as means for an abortion, except when the mother’s life is in danger. Current state law does not allow for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

The current law belies the results of two different statewide votes in the early 2000s that rejected greater restrictions on abortions other than in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life was threatened.

Also, a 2022 News Watch poll found that 65% of respondents supported having a statewide referendum to determine South Dakota’s laws regarding reproductive rights. Note that this doesn’t say 65% are in favor of enshrining those rights; it says that people want to have a say on it at the ballot box.

But our lawmakers have other ideas — or fears — again.

That’s not freedom, and it’s not right.