In a stunning rebuke to Republican legislators, South Dakota voters yesterday resoundingly rejected Amendment C by a vote of 33% Yes to 67% No.
With 677 out of 679 precincts fully reporting, 122,287 South Dakotans voted No on the Republican proposal to require a 60% supermajority to enact ballot measures that raise taxes or spend at least $10 million in one year; only 59.111 South Dakotans supported writing that conservative, anti-democratic bias into the state constitution.
The Republican sponsors of Amendment C, Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) and Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids), broke normal procedure and set the vote for this measure in a special June election rather than the November general election for purely political reasons. Schoenbeck and Hansen assumed that the lower-turnout June electorate would consist mostly of Republican base voters who would turn out for their primary races and share their desire to further undermine the people’s right to initiate laws that causes Republican legislators such heartburn 181,498 total votes cast. They also wanted to ensure that Amendment C was enacted this July 1, in time to require a 60% vote for the Medicaid expansion measure (or measures) that will be on the November ballot.
Schoenbeck and Hansen were correct in assuming Republicans would comprise most of the turnout on June 7. 67% of the ballots turned in yesterday were Republican ballots. 31% of the ballots cast yesterday were non-political ballots containing only Amendment C and, in some jurisdictions, local ballot measures and/or non-partisan contests. Democratic ballots for the minuscule number of Democratic primary battles constituted only 2% of yesterday’s votes cast.
Turnout was low in the big-picture Democratic scheme of things: only 31% of registered voters found an amendment to their constitution worth voting on. But turnout was historically higher for this primary than the last four primaries, which ranged from 20.11% in 2014 to 26.77% in 2020. In 2018, when the Republican primaries were coupled with a statewide vote on Amendment Y, the Marsy’s Law fix, total turnout was 25.23%, with Republicans turning out at 41% and Democrats and independents together turning out at what I estimate to be about 11%. This year, GOP turnout was 43% while Dem/indy turnout was 21%. Those are still embarrassing numbers—far more people of all political favors didn’t give enough of a darn about what their constitution says than did to show up and mark a ballot—but the turnout was higher than expected.
But Schoenbeck and Hansen really misread their own party. While we don’t have vote breakdowns by party, look at the Republican ballot totally. County auditors received 124,326 Republican ballots. Amendment C received only 59,111 Yes votes. Even if every one of those Yes votes came from a Republican, there are still 65,215 Republican voters who marked No on C. At least 52% of Schoenbeck’s and Hansen’s fellow Republicans rejected their 60%-vote proposal.
The Republican No-on-C vote is almost certainly higher than 52%; the 62,568 non-partisan and democratic ballots handed out yesterday surely included some independents, among whom there were surely some Yes-on-C votes.
Thus, even among a friendlier crowd of mostly Republican primary voters, Schoenbeck and Hansen cannot win their argument that it’s too easy to pass ballot measures and that the legislature should check direct democracy by imposing higher vote thresholds. They lost that argument for minority rule in the 2018 general election when voters rejected Amendment X, which would have required a 55% to amend the constitution. They lost that argument yesterday when Primary Day voters rejected Amendment C.