With deadline approaching, ‘Democracy Center’ puts petitions under one roof

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Plugged in lights, electric heaters, clipboards, pens and most importantly, petitions. 

That’s what you’ll find inside the newly opened “Democracy Center” in the old Bagel Boy building on Minnesota Avenue in Sioux Falls. It’s a streamlined location where registered South Dakota voters can find petitions for three possible 2022 ballot measures — Medicaid expansion, redistricting reform and recreational marijuana

“I think people are really fed up with what’s happening in Pierre with all of these initiatives that pass and never get implemented,” Rick Weiland said. “People are pretty upset about it.” 

Weiland, a former U.S. Senate candidate, is the co-founder of Dakotans for Health, a group seeking Medicaid expansion in South Dakota. Weiland said his son, Adam, also a co-founder of Dakotans for Health, came up with the idea for the Democracy Center. 

“Why not take some of the stuff that’s on the streets right now with volunteers and bring them all together,” Rick Weiland said. “It’s a one-stop shop; it just makes perfect sense to sign four petitions in five minutes.” 

The doors are open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. And there’s a rush to meet Monday’s constitutional amendment petition deadline. 

For a constitutional amendment, 33,921 valid signatures are needed to get the measure on the ballot. That number is 10% of the total number of votes casted in the last governor’s election. For an initiated measure, 16,961 (5%) signatures are needed. Medicaid expansion is being sought both as a constitutional amendment and initiated measure by Dakotans for Health.

Weiland said the Democracy Center emphasizes South Dakota’s state motto of “Under God, the people rule.” He praised the volunteer staff for the time commitment in helping get the signatures.

“There’s been a flurry of activity since we opened,” Weiland said. “Democracy is hard work, but it takes everyone working hard to make it work. That’s what this Democracy Center is all about.” 

There’s also a campaign against Amendment C, which will be on the June 7 primary election ballot. If passed, a 60% majority requirement would be in force for any measures on the ballot in the following November general election that propose to add or raise taxes or would cost state government $10 million or more per year.

That would require voters to pass Medicaid expansion with 60% of the vote instead of a simple majority. Weiland called Amendment C “a little unfair” because of its placement on the primary election ballot in 2022 instead of a general election.

“Democrats don’t have primaries because there’s no one to vote for,” Weiland said. “Our hope is we can defeat Amendment C because it’s another attempt by the South Dakota legislature to shut down this citizen-driven democracy.” 

Another group, South Dakotans Decide is also looking to get Medicaid eligibility on the ball as a constitutional amendment.

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