After years of trying to get South Dakota legislators to surrender control of redistricting to an independent commission, supporters of the idea are trying to do it instead through a constitutional amendment. Backers say the measure before voters this November would eliminate lawmakers’ conflict of interest and make people feel elections are fair to all parties. “It’s time for fair representation. Period,” said Democratic Rep. Peggy Gibson, who has backed at least nine independent redistricting measures since 2009. “I’m not saying it’ll be perfect, but I’m certainly thinking it will be better than the method that we have now.” Opponents — including majority Republicans — say the current system is working fine. “The idea, I think, is to elect people that are more in line with liberal ideas as far as spending money and a whole host of issues,” said GOP Rep. Jim Bolin, who served on the commission that oversaw the last redistricting plan in 2011.
Members of the South Dakota Farmers Union decided to gather signatures for a constitutional amendment after their last failure at the Legislature. The group has given at least $238,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to a political committee supporting the effort, according to state campaign finance reports.
Redistricting is the process of redrawing electoral district boundaries every 10 years to account for population changes. When the process is carried out by elected officials, it often sparks lawsuits and claims of gerrymandering — attempting to draw the districts for political advantage.
Passage of South Dakota’s Amendment T requires a simple majority. It would create a commission of nine people chosen each redistricting year to revise the legislative district boundaries.