Last updated on 2014.11.07
I've spent a good part of this week making lemonade from the lemons the midterms handed us. Have another glass:
But that low turnout offers a chance to do more direct democracy during the next two elections. You know I love ballot measures. A friend just reminded me that, thanks to fewer people showing up to vote Tuesday, it will be easier to put initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2016 and 2018.
South Dakota calculates ballot measure signature requirements on the basis of the total vote for governor in the most recent election. Placing an initiative or a referendum on the ballot requires signatures totaling 5% of that gubernatorial vote. Putting a constitutional amendment to a public vote requires 10%.
In 2010, 317,083 South Dakotans cast votes for governor. This year, only 277,249 did. That decrease of more than 12% means we will need almost 2,000 fewer signatures to place an initiative on the ballot. We will need almost 2,000 fewer signatures to refer any of the Legislature's bad ideas to a public vote. We will need almost 4,000 fewer signatures to ask voters to amend our state constitution.
Some candidates will also have a lower signature hill to climb. Partisan candidates must gather signatures equal to 1% of the last vote for their party's gubernatorial candidate in the jurisdiction in which they are seeking office. Republicans get no advantage here, since Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard got just a hair more votes this year than he did in 2010. Governor Daugaard has thus raised Republicans' statewide petition signature count by 3. Democratic candidate Susan Wismer drew 42% fewer votes than Scott Heidepriem did in 2010; that means Democrats daring to run for Governor, U.S. House, or U.S. Senate will need 500 fewer signatures to qualify.
Independents get a break, too. Our partisan Legislature raises the bar for Indies, requiring them to collect signatures equaling 1% of the total gubernatorial vote. Still, they will need 398 fewer signatures to make the ballot.
|Signatures required:||2012 & 2014||2016 & 2018||change|
|GOP Statewide Candidate||1,951||1,954||3|
|Dem Statewide Candidate||1,221||706||-515|
|Indep Statewide Candidate||3,171||2,773||-398|
|*Organize New Party||7,928||6,906||-1,022|
There could be a democratic downside to easier ballot access. Just as low voter turnout means candidates can rely on narrower messages and smaller segments of the population to win elections, lower petition requirements mean candidates and ballot measure organizers don't have to appeal to as broad a group of citizens to get their names and issues on the ballot.
This system may offer some equalizing feedback for candidates. If one party's fortune's decline, this system makes it easier for that party to get candidates on the ballot next time. But if we view petitioning as a pre-test of a candidate's organizing ability and civic competence, making that test easier may be the opposite of what a struggling party needs.
Whatever the merits of the system, unless Secretary of State-Elect Shantel Krebs decides to wreak havoc, this year's low turnout means that Democrats, Indies, and ballot measure advocates (balloteers? ballot measurers?) will need fewer signatures to access the ballot in 2016 and 2018. Maybe we can use this break to put some candidates and measures on the ballot that will excite voters and bring voter turnout back up.
*Update 2014.11.07 16:34 CST: Oh! I forgot to mention that organizing a new party will be easier, too. Per SDCL 12-5-1, new party organizers need signatures from 2.5% of the last total gubernatorial vote. Libertarians, Greens, Christian Socialists, and anyone else who'd like to offer an alternative to the big two parties will only need to gather 6,906 signatures, a thousand fewer than last time! Since the Libertarians and the Constitution Party both have now lost their party status by not running anyone for Governor, their recovery plans just got 13% easier.