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Senate bill would up number of signatures needed to put constitution changes on ballot

PIERRE -- A bill that would increase the number of signatures needed to put a change to the state's constitution to a statewide vote has been introduced at the Capitol.

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PIERRE - A bill that would increase the number of signatures needed to put a change to the state’s constitution to a statewide vote has been introduced at the Capitol.

And Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, said there could be anywhere between four and 10 bills that have to deal with ballot measure signatures introduced during the session.

Senate Bill 67 would affect only constitutional amendments, not referred laws or initiated measures. It would increase the number of signatures needed to put an amendment on the ballot to 5 percent of the number of registered voters at the time of the last gubernatorial election. Now, the standard is 5 percent of the number of people who actually voted in the last election of a governor.

To Sen. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City, the change would get more voters engaged in the process of changing the constitution. And it would draw a distinction between a constitutional amendment and other ballot measures.

It’s been well known for years that it’s easy to change South Dakota’s constitution by collecting relatively few signatures and without having to make a big media buy, said Partridge, one of the bill’s sponsors.

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To him, the bill doesn’t have anything to do with the number of ballot measures that were before voters in November.

But Greenfield said that he heard from people who spent a half-hour trying to sort through the ballot explanations provided by the attorney general and were still confused.

Some voters were “weary, frustrated, fatigued,” he said.

Greenfield, another of the measure’s sponsors, said it is an opportunity to keep out-of-state entities and interests from being able to change the constitution so easily.

He said there will certainly be more bills introduced concerning how many signatures have to be collected to put measures on ballots. The total could hit double digits, he said.

“I think a lot of people have a lot of different ideas,” Greenfield said.

He said the state constitution spells out the threshold to get a measure on the ballot, but the definition of “eligible voter” is ambiguous.

At some point, Greenfield said, eligible voter came to be defined in state statute as the number of people who voted last election. He thinks a change to the number of registered voters would be in line with what the constitution says and means.

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The bill was introduced Friday. It has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

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