Views from the Secretary

Views from the Secretary
It is about time for the people to have their voice in the affairs of government in two ways – one voice is the regular vote to elect leaders, the other is a limited power to make law directly.

Despite President Lincoln's famous words "of the people, by the people, for the people" spoken so eloquently by him at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863, not all people are free to participate in our system of self government. Only registered voters can vote and not all people are allowed to register. Minors and felons are "of the people," but not allowed to vote. In 1863, women were not voters.

The second voice, commonly called rights of referendum and referral, are even more restricted. That power arose from the early farm movements such as the Grange Society which laid the foundation for the farmer-led populist movement of the late 1800s. The Populist Party national convention in Omaha is said to have come up with the name "populist."

In 1896, the movement gained enough influence in the Democratic Party to nominate William Jennings Bryan for president. In 1897, South Dakota put the power of initiative and referendum into the South Dakota Constitution, reserving that power to "qualified electors."

Not everyone was happy about that. Eight times since 1897, the electors of South Dakota were asked to change that section of the South Dakota Constitution. Eight times the voters refused to do so. Finally in 1988, one small amendment was made which deleted a provision requiring the legislature to enact proposed measures.

South Dakota constitutional power of initiative and referendum applies to only two kinds of law, state law and municipal government. The power to make law is not the same as the power to reverse administrative decisions.

The executive branch makes administrative decisions. The legislative branch makes law.

Our Legislature later extended a limited version of initiative and referendum to county voters, where the distinction between administrative functions and legislative functions seem to be lost. The granting of power to voters of a county is not a "right" but a mere privilege via a statute.

The initiative and referendum process became popular about the time western states were created. It is largely unheard of in the east. Proponents call it "direct democracy."

There is another limiting factor in this system – you have to show up. Only those who show up get a voice, and a majority of them will make law for the rest of us.

If you did not register to vote by Oct. 23 or fail to show up on election day, you're stuck with the decisions of others.

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