A commenter last week got me thinking about South Dakotans' political maturity and capability. We put three measures on our 2012 ballot by petition, then voted all three down. We killed two really bad ideas from the Governor and one kinda bad idea from a citizens' group. Our two referenda and one initiative promoted some worthwhile policy conversation among the electorate, more than we get from our discussion of candidates for office.
But initiative and referendum are costly, clunky, and untimely processes. Hundreds of people have to walk around neighborhoods, interrupt folks in their daily routines, and gather thousands of signatures to put questions on the ballot. We can't amend and improve those measures in a given election cycle; we can only vote Yes or No.
So maybe the time has come to update our initiative and referendum statutes to reflect the democratic and technological capabilities of the 21st century. Maybe the time has come to integrate direct democracy in our annual legislative process. Maybe the time has come to express the constitutionally designated legislative power of the people in the Online People's Assembly. Here's my plan:
- Abolish the South Dakota House of Representatives. (My blogospheric colleague Douglas Wiken will love that!)
- Replace its authority with an Online People's Assembly, consisting of all South Dakota registered voters.
- Continue to run bills normally through the South Dakota Senate.
- All bills passing Senate committee and floor votes are posted to a special wiki on the Legislature's website for a 31-day period.
- South Dakota citizens have two weeks to comment on Senate-approved bills.
- Any Senate-approved bill receiving fewer than 16,000 unique views go to the Governor for signature or veto.
- Any Senate-approved bill receiving more than 16,000 unique views is open for public amendment and debate.
- Citizens may submit and vote on amendments to such pending legislation via the wiki.
- Approved amendments are locked in at the end of Day 24 of the posting period.
- Citizens vote online for the final form of the bill from Day 25 to Day 31.
- Bills receiving a majority vote from wiki participants are considered approved by the Online People's Assembly.
- Amended bills go to back to the Senate for a straight up-or-down reconciliation vote.
- The President Pro-Tem of the Senate must introduce all citizen-approved bills by shouting, "OPA!"
- The Governor may veto bills approved by the Online People's Assembly.
We can also include a mechanism for the Online People's Assembly to introduce bills during the first month of the legislative session. If you like initiative and referendum, you'll love the Online People's Assembly! (That means Dennis Daugaard will hate it... which makes me like it all the more.)
We have the technology to make a project like this work (as long as you don't put Jason Gant's people in charge of it). Legislators, I'm looking for a sponsor for this Constitutional amendment!