South Dakota is among the quirky states with a proud tradition of direct democracy.
When we want something done, we don’t wait around. We circulate petitions and put measures on ballots. When our elected representatives do something we don’t like, we refer their decisions to a popular vote.
At the state level, it’s easy enough to do. To get an initiated measure or referred law on the ballot, you need to gather the signatures of registered voters equal to 5 percent of number who voted in the most recent race for governor.
This year, that number was 15,855.
To initiate a constitutional amendment, you need twice that number, 31,709.
But if you’re fighting the Sioux Falls School Board’s decision to close a school near your house, referring that decision to a public vote is nearly impossible.
State law says that in order to challenge the closure of a school, you need signatures from 15 percent of the registered voters in your school district.
In a small town, that seems doable. But in Sioux Falls, that’s roughly 14,400 signatures, more than three times the number – 4,090 – who voted in the last standalone school board election, in 2011.
If the school board votes to raise property taxes through an opt-out, it takes signatures from just 5 percent of the district’s registered voters – about 4,800 in Sioux Falls – to put the question to a public vote.
But maybe the high bar is appropriate. The three-school consolidation approved Monday closes the schools of about 850 students, or about 3.7 percent of all the K-12 students who will be enrolled in the district in 2015.
If the schools’ defenders do attempt an ambitious petition drive, we’ll see if the board’s decision resonated with anyone outside the central Sioux Falls neighborhoods.
To recap, it takes:
15,855 signatures of registered voters statewide (about 1 in 33.5) to put a $180 million annual sales tax increase on the ballot;
14,400 signatures of registered voters in the Sioux Falls School District (about 1 in 6.7) to put the closure of Longfellow and Jefferson elementary schools on the ballot.