Like a good seed for a bountiful harvest
This year’s election ballot will include an amendment designed to reform how South Dakota districts are developed and managed.
Known as Amendment T, the policy will shrink the legislative committee size down to 9 non-legislators rather than 15 office-seeking legislators as the system stands at present. The current draft of the bill calls for equal representation of the parties by selecting three republicans, three democrats, and three individuals not affiliated with either of the other two parties. To be eligible for committee membership, one must apply to the Board of Elections and cannot hold public office positions 3 years prior to or after committee participation.
Additionally, once the committee members redraw or make changes to the district maps, South Dakotans would have a 30-day public comment period to express any comments or concerns regarding the proposed changes.
Citing a decline of rural representation in legislative decisions, Karla Hofhenke, executive director for South Dakota Farmers Union and outward supporter of the policy, says that Amendment T is a way to ensure everyone is equally represented regardless of their regional population density.
“Amendment T is not an effort to give one party an advantage over another, or to give rural an advantage over urban or visa versa,” Hofhenke said. “You can’t have a bountiful harvest without a good seed and you can’t have fair elections without a fair and balanced process. It is a way to ensure that everyone is playing by the same rules, on the same playing field.”
Senator Betty Olson, Prairie City, South Dakota, is opposed to Amendment T and worries about the consequences the initiative might bring to the state’s agriculturalists.
“[Amendment T] takes the power of creating legislative districts away from the legislature and turns it over to nine unelected people appointed to a new board,” Olson noted. “If this passes it will cause more counties to be broken up and divided, which would not be good for our rural areas in South Dakota where all of agriculture is based.”
Ellie Highstreet, a campaign advisor of “Yes On T,” said that this amendment is a way to put voters back in charge of the politicians representing citizens.
“Amendment T puts voters back in charge of elections,” Highstreet said. “It creates a balanced committee of non-legislators who are tasked with drawing the voting maps, and establishes safeguards that protect voters from other unfair election practices.”
Agriculture is the state’s top industry, and farmers and ranchers often feel legislation coming down from the capitol the most. Amendment T, supporters argue, is a win both for the state and for agriculturalists that most often feel the legislative impacts.
“Amendment T is a win for farmers and ranchers because it is a win for South Dakota,” Hofhenke added. “Agriculture is affected by the actions taken in Pierre as much as, if not more than, any other industry in the state.”
With each ballot item, the Secretary of State puts out a pamphlet citing both pros and cons for each side of the respective ballot based on lobby feedback, petition support, how the bill is written, and the process by which it came to fruition. Currently, the “Yes to T” group are the only organization state wide to take a stand on this issue. For more information on this and other state initiated ballots that will appear in November, visit this page.