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Woster: Why Amendment C should bring urgency to South Dakotans to vote in the primary

My real concern is that the decision on whether to require a supermajority for some tax and spend issues is on a primary election ballot.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
We are part of The Trust Project.

As a registered voter with no political party affiliation, I’ve become accustomed to paying little attention to primary elections.

I usually vote, of course. That’s what citizens do. As a registered, usually faithful, voter without a party affiliation, though, I often have one or two choices, usually local races, in primaries. Those are important, for sure. If you agree with the person who said that all politics is local, perhaps those local races are the most important. But important isn’t always the same as urgent or attention-grabbing.

This year, June 7, the primary election matters a great deal, no matter what local or statewide races are on the ballots. This primary election, a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot would significantly alter the power of the people. Specifically, it would increase the threshold vote required in some instances for citizens to make their own laws when they don’t agree with how their elected representatives are handling the task. The proposal is Amendment C, and it’s both important and urgent.

Amendment C would change the constitution to require a 60 percent supermajority for citizens to pass any initiated measure, proposed constitutional amendment or referred measure that imposes or increases a tax; any such measure or amendment that “obligates the state to appropriate $10 million or more in any of the first five fiscal years; and any such measure or amendment that imposes or increases a fee.

Currently, the constitution says legislators must have a two-thirds majority to impose or raise a tax. Citizens, though, can do those things with a simple majority. In other words, it’s easier for the people to make tax decisions than it is for the elected senators and representatives to do that.

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To me, that makes sense. Citizens as a whole should have an easier time passing and repealing laws than their elected representatives do. The people rule, after all.

South Dakota was the first state in the country in which citizens gave themselves the right to initiate or refer laws. Several other states followed, but South Dakota was first. When citizens favor a law that legislators haven’t passed, they can circulate petitions, put the idea on the ballot and pass it into law with majority support. If citizens don’t like a law the legislators pass, they can circulate petitions, hold a vote and, in effect, veto that law with a majority vote. They can do the same with constitutional amendments.

Most times, citizens let legislators handle the business of making and repealing laws and amendments. But in South Dakota, we the people believe it’s important that we can do those things ourselves sometimes.

I believe citizens acting as a group usually make the right decisions. That’s why I accept the outcome of elections, whether I like the results or not. I also think citizens, acting as a group, sometimes make mistakes. But the decisions of citizens, even the mistakes, should be made by a simple majority, not a supermajority, whether it’s 60 percent or two-thirds or any other number. If it takes more than a simple majority to make the decisions, then the minority rules.

Amendment C would let the minority rule on some issues.

That isn’t my big concern, though. My real concern is that the decision on whether to require a supermajority for some tax and spend issues is on a primary election ballot. Traditionally, fewer people vote in primaries than in general elections. Everybody knows that. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Because it is, Amendment C — a pretty significant public policy issue — likely will be decided by a relative handful of the registered voters in the state.

Such an issue should have been on the general election ballot, as most such measures have been in the past. That would have made it more likely that more people would have helped decide Amendment C’s fate.

But it’s on the June 7 ballot. I’ll go vote. I want every other registered voter to vote, too. I’ll vote against Amendment C. Whichever way others vote, I want as many of us to vote as possible. We’ll all live with our decision.

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