South Dakota voters reject GOP state constitutional amendment aimed at sabotaging Medicaid expansion

South Dakota voters reject GOP state constitutional amendment aimed at sabotaging Medicaid expansion
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) speaking at the 2020 Student Action Summit, hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida (Gage Skidmore).
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South Dakotans on Tuesday resoundingly defeated a Republican-authored constitutional amendment that would have raised the threshold for passage of most ballot initiatives from a simple majority to 60%, an effort motivated by GOP lawmakers' desire to head off a Medicaid expansion vote set for November.

Voters rejected the proposal, known as Amendment C, by a margin of 67.4% to 32.6%, dealing a decisive blow to state-level Republicans' latest attempt to weaken the ballot initiative process.

"The people of South Dakota have preserved their right to use direct democracy," said Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, a national group that worked to defeat the South Dakota amendment. "This victory will benefit tens of thousands of South Dakotans who will choose to use the ballot measure process to increase access to healthcare for their families and neighbors, raise wages, and more policies that improve lives."

"We look forward to what's next in South Dakota: an aggressive campaign to expand Medicaid in the state," Hall added.

If passed, Amendment C would have required a 60% supermajority to approve any voter-initiated referendum that would "increase taxes or fees or that would require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years." The proposal was endorsed by South Dakota's Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and the powerful Koch network, which spent big on pro-Amendment C ads and mailers.

"Amendment C is a political ploy that would empower special interests, lobbyists, and politicians at the expense of South Dakota voters," South Dakotans for Fair Elections said ahead of Tuesday's vote. "If you care about secure and fair elections, vote no on C."

Republican sponsors and supporters of the amendment readily admitted that their expedited campaign to get Amendment C on the primary election ballot was fueled at least in part by opposition to the Medicaid referendum, which would make South Dakota the seventh state since 2017 to approve an expansion of the healthcare program through the voter initiative process.

Only Idaho's 2018 Medicaid expansion initiative received more than 60% of the vote, an indication that Amendment C would likely have spelled doom for the South Dakota referendum.

As Daniel Nichanian of Bolts noted late Tuesday, "GOP lawmakers in South Dakota were not able to increase the threshold of passage for initiatives on their own, without consulting voters, since the change would have affected the state constitution."

"And South Dakotans' refusal to go along with this stands out as reaffirming the state's historical legacy," Nichanian observed. "South Dakota was the first in the nation to adopt a process for citizens to initiate ballot measures. In 1898, voters approved a constitutional amendment to that effect that was pushed by local populist leaders—a legacy that voters reaffirmed on Tuesday."

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