PIERRE, S.D. — Like a scrupulous English teacher, the South Dakota House of Representatives said all initiated measures and constitutional ballot questions must be printed in 14-point font when they're distributed for canvassing. The measure now goes onward to the governor's desk.
In a short debate on Monday, March 1 on the House floor, Rep. Carl Perry, an Aberdeen Republican, said he was motivated to sponsor Senate Bill 77 after 70% of voters approved legalizing medical marijuana via an initiated measure, which he said "was not in the voters' best interest."
"This bill is to make it easier for voters to participate," said Perry, who insinuated South Dakotans voters didn't know what they voted for because Initiated Measure 26 included over 90 sections spelling out the marijuana program.
Rep. Nancy York (R-Watertown) also stood in favor of the bill, suggesting that any criticism that the measure was really intended to complicate the state's initiated measure process missed the mark by pointing to the money spent on "all these TV commercials you see about these initiated measures."
"I don't think a few more bucks to make a ballot readable will hurt anybody," said York.
Current state law requires petitions or amendments containing the "full text" of the proposed measure be circulated for signatures. No font size is mandated.
Opponents suggested that the measure — as South Dakota also requires ballot questions be printed on a single sheet of paper — might balloon the size of a document that state law requires be handed out to registered voters who sign measures to put on the ballot.
Rep. Tim Reed (R-Brookings) said he participated in a committee to clean-up the initiated measure process a few years ago that reviewed requiring a font size, but that the group dismissed that effort.
"It actually had a famous name, the beach blanket petition," said Reed, who noted that to fit some measures on a single sheet meant, effectively, printing out a blanket-sized petition to hand to voters.
Reed suggested such a requirement made the initiated measure process untenable.
Another opponent, Sioux Falls Democrat Rep. Erin Healy, questioned why — if ballot readability was really the concern — was the chamber not also requiring election-day ballots to be readable.
"That's not on the agenda now," said Perry. He later added that if an initiated measure couldn't fit on a single sheet of paper, "Maybe we shouldn't have as much stuff on there."
The House voted 59-to-10 in favor of the bill, mostly on party lines. Last month, the Senate more narrowly approved the measure — 20 to 13.