Voter pamphlet seems a bit empty

During a casual conversation with County Auditor Ruth Bremer recently, I asked her if sample ballots were available at her office.

She answered affirmatively, but also expressed a fair amount of concern. In her mind, the information being provided to voters from the state just didn't seem complete.

With my curiosity piqued, I logged on to the web page of Secretary of State Jason Gant, and it didn't take long to find out why Ruth is a bit concerned.

This November, South Dakota voters will be busy shortly after arriving at the polls. They will be asked to choose who they feel should occupy the White House for the next four years, and who should serve as our representative in Congress. There also are a bevy of candidates running for a variety of offices, from county commission to state legislator.

South Dakotans have never been hesitant to use the referral and initiative process. It's a trait that really shows this election year. November's ballot will give voters the opportunity to decide the fate of four Constitutional amendments and three referred laws.

State law requires the secretary of state to prepare and publish a pamphlet that provides information concerning constitutional amendments, initiatives and referred measures.

In nearly all cases in recent South Dakota election history, the person serving in the secretary of state office has provided information in these pamphlets that provide both a "pro" and a "con" opinion of the measure to better help inform voters of the issues involved.

Gant, it appears, was able to get pro and con statements on the three referred laws that will appear on our ballots. Information about the four Constitutional amendments, however, only contains supportive statements. Voters who pick up a pamphlet at their auditors' offices, or who call it up online, will find no "con" statements for those four ballot measures.

That is a bit of head-scratcher. One's first reaction, when perusing the pamphlet, is of being left in the dark. Are we to presume that the Constitutional amendments that appear on our ballots are so popular that no one opposes them?

Those of us with a bit of skeptical nature can't help but wonder Gant's effort to solicit citizen's input – specifically "con" statements regarding the four amendments – was sufficient.

We note that this has happened a couple times while other individuals served as secretary of state. No one evidently could be found to write "con" statements for Constitutional Amendment H in 2008 and Constitutional Amendments B and C in 2002.

Gant told the Mitchell Daily Republic, in a prepared statement, that he sent more than 50 letters July 9 to potential authors of pro and con statements for the pamphlet. By July 31, he was still missing statements, he said, so he posted notices on his office's website sdsos.gov via Facebook and Twitter.

I guess that means we all now have to become Facebook friends with our secretary of state. Make sure to follow him on Twitter, too. He may someday send a very important tweet your way.

After those attempts, Gant said, he did not receive any con statements for the four constitutional amendments. So, his office went ahead and printed 25,000 ballot question pamphlets and distributed them across the state on paper as well as on the sdsos.gov website in PDF, audio and digital book formats.

The 2012 pamphlet was published online Aug. 23 and distributed to county auditors beginning Aug. 30. In addition, there are braille and large-print copies available.

We think it's great that some of our tax dollars are used to widely distribute information concerning ballot questions that we'll all be asked to answer in November.

The four Constitutional amendments deal with provisions relating to corporations, lifting travel reimbursement restrictions for state legislators, factors involving the cement plant trust fund, and adding an amendment that will require a balanced state budget.

Who knows? Maybe Gant can, with a clear conscience, look us all square in the eyes and say, "Hey, I tried people. It's not my fault that no one wanted to write 'con' statements."

That's just a bit hard to swallow, though. We South Dakotans generally are a civil lot, with a variety of viewpoints. We often tend to "agree to disagree" and it seems implausible to believe there is no one living on our state's vast landscape who could conjure up a "con" statement for those four ballot measures.

The end result is a voter information pamphlet that lacks balance, and seems designed to unfairly skew one's vote in favor of the four Constitutional amendments.

State voters deserve better. We can't help but believe that Gant could have done a better job at performing this specific task that state law requires.

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