HB 1241: Unnecessary Petition Shenanigans

by Robin Bagley

In a year where South Dakotans will vote on a record number of ballot issues, Rep. Jim Bolin (R-District 16) has introduced a bill that will make sure rural voters get an even deal with urban voters. Because that’s a problem in South Dakota. Wait a minute. No, it’s not a problem.

While appearing to address an egregious problem of rural voters getting bamboozled into voting on ballot issues that are engineered by the urban voters of South Dakota’s five largest counties, it’s really just a legislator in sheep’s clothing trying to make it harder for citizens to use our rights to initiative and referendum. HB 1241 will require that initiative and referendum petition signers be “no more than fifty percent may be registered voters from the five most populated counties in the state as determined by the most recent federal census,” (HB 1241, introduced 2/4/2016).

Note that HB 1241 doesn’t apply to constitutional amendments as the bill specifically addresses initiatives requiring five percent of eligible voters; constitutional amendments require signatures by 10 percent of eligible voters. Evidently the constitution is less sacrosanct than statute, or perhaps Rep. Bolin just wants to insulate himself against having the legislature’s poorly thought-out laws undergo scrutiny by the voters.

The five most populous counties in South Dakota at the 2010 census were: Minnehaha, Pennington, Lincoln, Brown, and Brookings (www.quickfacts.census.gov). While probably targeted mostly at Sioux Falls and Rapid City, I do have to chuckle at Brookings being an “urban” area. Gosh-darn those high-falutin’ Brookings folks, who do they think they are shoving these initiated measures down our throats?! Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Because it is.

Where does Rep. Bolin live? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not one of the other 61 counties. Nope, Rep. Bolin hails from Canton, in Lincoln County, one of the big five. So he’s not reacting to an urban-rural bent on initiated measures; he’s simply trying to make it harder for South Dakotans to get measures on the ballot.

To disqualify voters simply because of where they live in the state is simply wrong. HB 1241 is a bad bill.


  1. Bill Powers says:

    I’m not yet persuaded by your argument. To presume that because Bolin lives in one of the big “five,” entails that he would support anything the big “five” support is an example of the genetic fallacy. The 2014 population of the five “bigs” is 414394, representing 48.6% of the state’s population. The fraction of people living in the big fives will likely increase in the coming years. Still, I like the proposal. We might ask whether it will it make it more difficult for “rural” petitions to be approved? It appears that it will not. As I read the statute, it would still be possible for all of the petition signers to be from rural areas. This means that it only disadvantages the big five counties. If I live in one of the big fives, why wouldn’t I vote against it? You may be right that it’s probably best to keep it as it is, but it’s an interesting idea. In any case, it probably won’t pass.

    • Hi Bill,
      I don’t believe that Bolin cares about what the Big 5 support or do not support. My purpose in pointing out that he lives in one of the Big 5 is simply to illustrate that he can’t truly feel that urban is pushing out rural in our state when he lives in a county where he would disqualify voters simply because of where they live. His purpose in this bill to make it harder for South Dakotans to get signatures on petitions. He knows it’s easier to gather signatures in Sioux Falls than it is in Miller, for example. As a legislator, he’s tired of initiated measures & referendums. And as I read the bill, petitions with all signatures from rural counties would not disqualify them. However, that would be much more difficult to accomplish. Thanks for your comments! We’ll see where this bill goes.

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