The upcoming primary election in South Dakota features a historic number of primary races in which Republican candidates will be battling for positions up and down the ballot.
Almost all of the action will be among Republicans. But there is a ballot issue that all registered voters can weigh in on, Constitutional Amendment C. If it passes, the amendment would require any future ballot measure that increases taxes, or spends $10 million over five years, to pass by at least 60%.
Though not unheard of – South Dakota voters saw a ballot measure in the 2018 primary election – they are rare in primaries. Most ballot issues appear on the general election ballot.
And that has some opponents of Amendment C claiming treachery: Voter participation is expected to be much lower. In 2018, for example, 27% of registered voters participated in the primary, versus 63% in the general election.
To opponents, this is intentional.
“We’re going to make sure South Dakotans know this is happening,” said Zach Nistler, a spokesman for South Dakotans for Fair Elections.
It’s also timed ahead of a November ballot issue that would expand Medicaid. If Amendment C passes, Medicaid expansion, a decade-long policy issue for those wanting to expand health care to more working-age adults, would have a higher hurdle to jump. The South Dakota Legislature, which has declined to expand Medicaid, placed Amendment C on the ballot.
Rep. Jon Hansena Dell Rapids Republican who sponsored the measure, said it will have a lasting effect on state fiscal policy well into the future if passed.
“I just thought it should be harder to tax and spend your money,” he said.
“Frankly,” he added, “our state should have done this a long time ago.”
While opponents argue it’s unfair for 41% of the electorate to be able to thwart the other 59% on tax policy, Hansen said that lawmakers already operate under a higher threshold. That’s because it requires two-thirds of lawmakers in both the House and Senate to raise taxes.
Zach Marcus, the campaign manager for South Dakotans Decide Healthcarewhich is sponsoring the Medicaid expansion vote, said his organization has not taken a position on Amendment C, although some of the organization’s coalition members are opposing it.
Americans for Prosperity, a pro-business group that favors limited government, has emerged as a key ally in the campaign for Amendment C’s passage. Through the end of 2021, South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes had received nearly $340,000 from Americans for Prosperity.
Keith Moore, AFP’s South Dakota state director, said it should be harder to raise taxes, noting that it takes 67% of the Legislature to raise taxes. I have noted the state has a balanced budget, low taxes and limited government.
“South Dakota is a good place to live because of all of those,” Moore said.
Nistler said he expects the backers of the amendment to be well financed with American for Prosperity involved, given that organization’s deep pockets.
But Nistler said his group will have the resources to get is message out through mailers, radio and television advertising.
“I know that we’re going well financed, and we’re going to be aggressive in letting South Dakotans know,” he said.
South Dakotans for Fair Elections is backed by a coalition of industry groups, Nistler said. Besides the Municipal League and the South Dakota Education Associationit will include other groups that people will recognize.
The group, which was created in February, has not been required to file a campaign finance report.
The primary election is June 7.