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If voters change constitution for elections, legislators would need to move fast for '18

PIERRE -- The Legislature might need a special session in 2017 if voters approve constitutional amendments on Nov. 8 to change how legislative districts are drawn and to convert South Dakota to non-partisan elections, some state officials said Fr...

PIERRE - The Legislature might need a special session in 2017 if voters approve constitutional amendments on Nov. 8 to change how legislative districts are drawn and to convert South Dakota to non-partisan elections, some state officials said Friday.

Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, whose office oversees elections, said Constitutional Amendment T calls for a new nine-member commission to re-draw legislative districts in 2017, again in 2021 and then every 10 years after.

The state Board of Elections would have the responsibility for receiving applications to serve on the new commission and for selecting three Republicans, three Democrats and three non-party citizens to be its members.

Those new districts would be used for the 2018 elections.

Constitutional Amendment V would eliminate partisan elections in South Dakota, starting with the June 2018 primary elections.

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"That's a big concern for us," Krebs said.

All of the laws would have to be in place by Jan. 1, 2018, she said, and that would require taking all of the changes to the Legislature in 2017.

Krebs said it would be difficult to have the legislation written in time for the 2017 regular session that closes at the end of March.

"Would that mean we have to have a special session? I'm questioning all that," Krebs said.

The discussions came at the start of a meeting Friday of a special committee Krebs has convened to work on the topic of campaign finance reforms. One of the participants was Linda Lea Viken, of Rapid City, who serves on the Board of Elections.

Viken indicated the preparation of the non-partisan elections legislation shouldn't be overly difficult.

"You can use all the processes we use now," Viken said.

Sen. Scott Parsley, D-Madison, saw the situation differently.

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"The reality of it is, if this (non-partisan elections requirement) passes we'll probably have to look at a special session or something," Parsley said. "I don't know of any way to delay that process."

The new commission on legislative districts would use staff and services provided by the Legislature, while the Board of Elections would choose the commission members. Krebs is chairwoman of the board and her staff performs its research and administrative work. Krebs said she doesn't know what her staff would do for the new commission within that relationship.

Tony Venhuizen, the governor's chief of staff, pointed out a legal quirk in the redistricting proposal.

"What if the Legislature turned around later and abolished the Board of Elections, which is created by statute?" Venhuizen asked.

That is an unusual arrangement because the constitution would refer to a statute-created board, he said.

The Legislature currently has the authority to set legislative districts.

Krebs pledged to make the short timeframes work if voters approve one or both constitutional amendments.

"Not that our office couldn't handle it. We'll be prepared," Krebs said.

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