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Former state rep files petition to have a commission establish legislative districts

Petition circulating for a legislative redistricting commission

Dan Ahlers

Dan Ahlers, a former state legislator from Dell Rapids, has filed a petition for a proposed constitutional amendment. Ahlers seeks to create a commission that will establish legislative districts, rather than the legislature doing its own districting.

“My reason for petitioning this constitutional amendment comes from my personal experiences as a legislator,” said Ahlers. “Over the years, my legislative colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, have expressed concerns over some of the district lines. As I am out campaigning, constituents have questioned why someone from Dell Rapids (which is on the north end of Minnehaha County) represents the southeast side of Sioux Falls. In some cases, these lines have been drawn to protect legislators, on both sides, from primaries and to secure their seat in the legislature. This practice is not limited to South Dakota. Redistricting and gerrymandering has been in the national spotlight for some time.”

“Redistricting by a commission takes the politics out of it,” Ahlers said. “A non-partisan redistricting commission ensures the district lines are drawn fairly and represent the communities they serve. The reason this comes as a constitutional amendment is the power to redistrict is delegated and defined within the state constitution. In order for this process to change, the constitution needs to be changed.”

Ahlers petition is entitled, “An amendment to the South Dakota Constitution providing for state legislative redistricting by a commission.”

“I filed a little more than 60 days ago,” said Ahlers, “though it’s something, as a former legislator, I’ve been thinking about for some time.”

A state Attorney General’s explanation for a proposed constitutional amendment has also been filed with the Secretary of State.

“I’ve seen some crazy lines, and heard complaints from representatives and senators,” said Ahlers. “You put legislators in a precarious position, representing different groups, like rural and urban voters. The main reason for doing this is to have districts that better represent the public. Better lines draw for a better make-up of South Dakota.”

The explanation by the Attorney General must be on the petition that will be circulated by the sponsor of the proposed amendment (Ahlers).

If Ahlers gets enough signatures by November, the proposed amendment may then be placed on the ballot for the November 2020 general election. The validity of the signatures to make the necessary total on the petition would be certified by the Secretary of State.

“To be placed on the 2020 ballot, a Constitutional Amendment petition will need 33,921 valid signatures — 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last general election. Those petitions and signatures must be turned in by Nov. 4, 2019, no later than 5 p.m.,” said Tim Bormann, Office of Attorney General chief of staff.

“We are working with strictly volunteers,” said Ahlers. “Once we get the language back from the Attorney General, we get to work. All the volunteers and I will get the petitions out.”

“I don’t think it’s meant to be easy,” said Ahlers. “You have to get quite a few more names to petition to change the constitution. And, the time is now limited. I like a challenge. Good things don’t come easy.”

“When I was first elected to the legislature, my district was all rural. District 25 was northern Minnehaha, McCook and Hanson County. These demographics are important because of the rural and agricultural link to the people you represent,” said Ahlers.

“Today, District 25 is northern Minnehaha and the southeast side of Sioux Falls,” he continued. “The needs of the people you represent can be very different, and legislation in Pierre can sometimes pit the rural and urban needs against one another. There was a case in a Sioux Falls district in which a candidate ran under one affiliation (which gave this candidate an advantage based on voter registration) and upon being elected switched parties. After the census, their residence was carved out and put into another District that was more favorable to their current party affiliation. This practice would not only be prohibited, but impossible with this constitutional amendment.”

Bormann also supplied the following information.

According to South Dakota Statutes 2-1-1.2 and 2-1-10, those circulating petitions are required to provide each person who signs the petition a form containing the title and explanation of the initiated measure as prepared by the attorney general.

As for individual circulators of the petition, each initiative petition contains a mandatory circulator affidavit. The circulator is required to sign these affidavits before a public notary and send these statements to the Secretary of State. They must swear to and sign a statement, under penalty of law, that they personally witnessed every act of signing the petition.

The statement from the individual circulator must also contain the following information:

Their driver licensing state of issue, and its expiration date

The state in which the circulator is registered to vote

The length of time at the circulator’s current residence, and the addresses of his or her two previous residences

A sworn statement indicating the petition circulator’s intention to stay in the state following the petition effort

Other information to prove residency, such as a library card or utility bill

whether or not the circulator pays in-state tuition at any college or university, and

information about whether or not the circulator “obtains any resident hunting or resident fishing license of any kind.”

Once circulation is completed, the signatures are submitted to the South Dakota Secretary of State.

“The information we have on our website is all the contact information we have at this time,” Bormann said.

“Dan Ahlers is the individual who submitted the text of the measure to the Legislative Research Council and the Attorney General’s office,” said Christine Lehrkamp, state election coordinator, office of the South Dakota Secretary of State. “You can view the potential 2020 ballot questions and documents at https://sdsos.gov/elections-voting/upcoming-elections/general-information/2020-ballot-questions.aspx.”

Ahlers said his contact information is 605-940-3071 and danahlers1973@gmail.com.