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Dakotafire guide to ballot measures

Dakotafire guide to ballot measures

OK, folks, roll up your sleeves: It’s time to dig into your democratic duty.

North Dakota has five ballot measures this year; South Dakota has 10. (One additional measure, to allow corporate farming, was on the ballot in North Dakota’s primary in June. Voters rejected the measure.)

You can find the exact text of the ballot measures, plus explanations by the state attorneys general, pro and con statements, and contact information for the measures’ sponsors on the two states’ secretary of state websites: and


Why are these measures called different things?

The name of the measure shows how it came to be and/or how it will take effect if it’s passed.

Initiated Measure or Initiated Statutory Measure: If passed, this changes statute (state law). Sponsors of the measure had to get a certain number of signatures (13,871 in South Dakota and 13,452 in North Dakota) in order for the measure to be placed on the ballot.

Referred Law or Referendum: If passed, this would keep a law that was recently passed by the state legislature from taking effect. The sponsors of the South Dakota referred law had to gather 13,871 signatures before it could be placed on the ballot. There are no referenda on the ballot this year in North Dakota.

Initiated Constitutional Amendment: This measure would change the state constitution. Constitutions are intended to be harder to change than statutes, so signature requirements for a constitutional amendments are higher than for the other two measures—27,741 signatures in South Dakota or 26,904 signatures in North Dakota.


What’s it really about? Who is sponsoring? What political action committees are working for or against it?
(Note that PACs aren’t the only indications of support or opposition for a measure.)

Constitutional Measure No. 1 (Senate Concurrent Resolution 4010): This amendment would require appointed legislators to live in the district they represent.

Currently, to be a state legislator, a person has to be a “qualified elector” (a citizen of the United States, at least 18 years old) from the district they represent. This clarifies that the rule applies to legislators who are appointed to fill terms as well: Anyone who represents a district in the legislature has to live in that district. Sens. Rich Wardner and Mac Schneider and Reps. Al Carlson and Kenton Onstad None

Constitutional Measure No. 2 (Senate Concurrent Resolution 4003): This amendment changes how tax money gained from oil extraction can be used to support education.

In 1993, N.D. legislators created a “foundation aid stabilization fund” that could be used to keep funding for schools stable, even if the state government overall had budget cuts. Ten percent of oil extraction taxes go into the fund, which swelled to hundreds of millions during the oil boom. This amendment says that if that fund gets 15 percent bigger than what is going to schools from the general fund, the legislature can transfer out the “extra” amount. Currently, only the governor can move money from the fund. Those transferred “extra” funds may be used for educational purposes, but the amendment doesn’t require that. The 2015 North Dakota Legislature’s Legislative Management and Government Finance Committee None

Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 3: This amendment would provide more rights to crime victims. (A similar measure is on the ballot in South Dakota.)

Supporters say crime victims need additional rights such as the right to privacy and the right to provide input through the whole judicial process. The amendment would also expand the definition of a victim to include family members and others with a similar relationship. Opponents say these rights are all already covered in state or federal law, and that expanding the definition of a victim will delay the judicial process. Kathleen M Wrigley, Bismarck PRO: Marsy’s Law for North Dakota LLC

CON: None

Initiated Statutory Measure No. 4: This measure increases taxes on tobacco products to fund veterans’ services.

This measure would increase taxes on cigarettes by 400 percent, and the tax on other tobacco products by up to 56 percent. Tobacco tax revenue would go to the general fund, to cities, to the Community Health Trust Fund, and to a new fund that would be created to support veterans’ services. Supporters say an increase in taxes will decrease tobacco use, and the money generated will help veterans. Opponents say a tax on a product that a minority of the public uses, and that they hope to reduce the use of, is not a good way to fund needed programs. Eric L. Johnson, Grand Forks PRO: Raise it for Health North Dakota

CON: North Dakotans Against the 400% Tax Increase

Initiated Statutory Measure No. 5: This measure would allow the medical use of marijuana.

This measure would allow the use of marijuana for the treatment of certain medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, glaucoma, and epilepsy. Supporters say it provides help for ill patients. Opponents say the program would cost millions a year to administer, hard to find in a time of budget shortfalls. Rilie Ray Morgan, Fargo



What’s it really about? Who is sponsoring? What political action committees are working for or against it?*

Constitutional Amendment R: This would allow the legislature to determine some new way to oversee South Dakota’s tech schools.

Right now, South Dakota’s four tech schools are part of the K-12 system, which some say isn’t really a natural fit. Supporters say the tech schools need special attention, important as they are to preparing tomorrow’s workers. But supporters don’t want them to slide under the Board of Regents’ authority, either. This gives the legislature the authority to set up something else. Placed on the ballot by the 2015 legislature PRO: Tech Schools for South Dakota (Greg Von Wald)

CON: none


Constitutional Amendment S: This amendment would provide more rights to crime victims. (A similar measure is on the ballot in North Dakota.)

Supporters say crime victims need additional rights such as the right to privacy and the right to provide input through the whole judicial process. The amendment would also expand the definition of a victim to include family members and others with a similar relationship. Opponents say these rights are all already covered in state or federal law, and that expanding the definition of a victim will delay the judicial process. Jason Glodt, Pierre PRO: Marsy’s Law for South Dakota, LLC (Jason Glodt and Chrissie Hastie)

CON: none


Constitutional Amendment T: This amendment would transfer the job of legislative redistricting to a commission.

Currently, the legislature does redistricting. In practice, what often happens is gerrymandering—the party that is in power (and both parties do this) draws the boundaries for legislative districts so that their incumbents’ races are easier to win. This amendment would give that authority to a redistricting commission. Members of the commission would be selected by the state Board of Elections, and rules would limit those members from running for office for at least three years after serving on the committee, so there is less of a chance for self-dealing. Opponents say this committee would give power to people who weren’t elected. Doug Sombke, Groton; Karla Hofhenke, Huron; Matt Sibley, Huron PRO: #SDRTTHING2DO, (Doug Sombke and Karla Hofhenke)

CON: No T (David Roetman and Jason Ravnsborg)


Constitutional Amendment U: This amendment would limit interest rates only on loans that don’t have a written agreement. It would also block laws that try to set limits differently.

The key part of this amendment is whether a loan has a written agreement: Its 18 percent limit only applies to loans that don’t have an agreement in writing. It’s hard to think of where this limit would apply, since state law requires that title loans have a written agreement (SDCL 54-4-70), and “an agreement for a loan of money” has to be in writing (SDCL 53-8-2). So, on written loans, there would be no limit to what a lender could charge. The amendment also has a provision that doesn’t allow any other laws to be made that would overrule this amendment—so, if Constitutional Amendment U passes, the 36 percent cap in Initiated Measure 21 couldn’t be enforced. Lisa Furlong, North Sioux City PRO: South Dakotans for Fair Lending (Lisa Furlong)

CON: No on ‘U’sury (Cathy Brechtelsbauer and Sister Gabriella Crowley)


Constitutional Amendment V: This amendment would create nonpartisan elections.

Right now, South Dakota has closed primaries—only Republicans can vote in the Republican primary, only Democrats vote in the Democratic primary, etc. This measure would eliminate those party primaries and create ONE preliminary election in which all candidates are on the same ballot. Party affiliations wouldn’t be listed. Top votegetters would then face off in the general election. Supporters say this would allow more voters to take part earlier in the process (including independents, who now get no say until the general election), and in a state like South Dakota that is dominated by one party, it would create a more competitive general election. Opponents say this ballot will be less transparent without party labels, and if only the top votegetters face off, voters will often end up with fewer choices in the general election than they have now. Rick Weiland, Sioux Falls PRO: Vote Yes on V—South Dakotans for Non-Partisan Elections, Rick Weiland and Dan Foley

CON: No on Amendment V, Will Mortenson


Referred Law 19: This law backs up the period when candidates circulate petitions; increases the number of signatures required for Republican and Democratic candidates; and changes who can sign independents’ nominating petitions.

Currently, candidates circulate petitions between Jan. 1 and the last Tuesday in March. This moves that petition drive time to Dec. 1 through the first Tuesday in March, which is intended to give people more time to challenge those petitions. It changes the number of signatures that candidates have to gather in that time—Democrats and Republicans have to gather more signatures than they did before, and independents don’t have to get as many. But independents may find they have a harder time getting on the ballot because Democrats and Republicans are no longer allowed to sign their petitions. Cory Heidelberger, Aberdeen PRO: none

CON: South Dakotans for Fair Elections, Cory Heidelberger

Referred Law 20: This law lowers the minimum wage for non-tipped employees under the age of 18.

In 2014, South Dakotans voted to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, to be adjusted according to the cost of living thereafter. In the last session, legislators voted to reduce the minimum wage and remove the cost of living adjustment for non-tipped employees under the age of 18. Supporters say it gives inexperienced young people an edge in hiring that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Opponents say many young people do the same work as older workers and they should be treated the same. Cory Heidelberger, Aberdeen PRO: none

CON: SD Voice, Cory Heidelberger

Initiated Measure 21: The measure would cap certain loans (often called payday loans) at an annual percentage rate of 36 percent.

Today, there is no cap on these interest rates. Lenders can charge whatever interest rate they want, which has been as much as 574 percent when figured as an annual percentage rate. Opponents say people need those loans when unexpected needs arise. Supporters say the high interest rates can trap those people in debt they can never pay back. Steve Hildebrand, Steve Hickey, and Reynold Nesiba, all from Sioux Falls PRO: South Dakotans for Responsible Lending (Steve Hickey and Reynold Nesiba); Yes on 21 (Cathy Brechtelsbauer and Sister Gabriella Crowley)

CON: Give Us Credit South Dakota (Bradley Thuringer)

Initiated Measure 22: This measure revises state campaign finance and lobbying laws with the goal of reducing corruption. It also creates a way to publicly finance campaigns for statewide or legislative office.

A lot of changes are packed into this one measure: It creates a statewide ethics commission and strengthens enforcement of ethics violations. It sets limits on how much lobbyists, political action committees and others can give to politicians. It provides more transparency to who is giving money to campaigns. And it sets up a program to finance candidates who choose to participate with tax dollars—citizens can spend two $50 credits on whichever candidate they’d like. Supporters see this as one big boom of a measure to clean up politics in South Dakota. Opponents see wasted tax dollars and the privacy of donors being infringed. Don Frankenfeld, Rapid City, and Rick Weiland, Sioux Falls PRO:  South Dakotans for Ethics Reform (Rick Weiland and Dan Foley); South Dakotans for Integrity (Don Frankenfeld and Henry DeHaan)

CON: (Ben Lee and Delaine Van Deest)


Initiated Measure 23: The attorney general’s entire explanation is two sentences: “This measure gives corporate organizations and non-profit organizations the right to charge a fee for any services provided. This measure takes effect in July 2017.”

The wording is vague, but this isn’t really about just any corporation or non-profit—it’s about unions, and whether they can charge a fee to those workers who aren’t members of the union but who benefit from the work that unions do to negotiate better pay, benefits, working conditions, etc. In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was constitutional for unions to charge fees for non-members to eliminate “free riders” who aren’t paying their “fair share” for the work of securing benefits, according to an NPR story. Opponents say workers shouldn’t need to pay fees as part of having a job. Scott Niles, Newell, and Will Thomssen, Sioux Falls PRO: South Dakotans for Fairness, Scott Niles and Will Thomssen

CON: South Dakotans for Freedom and Jobs, Richard Hilgemann and Robert Beiswenger;  Defending Workers Rights South Dakota, Jason Ravnsborg and David Roetman; and No on 23, David Owen and Rusty Fiegen


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