South Dakota has the distinction of being the first state in the Union to provide for popular initiative and referendum for enacting and rejecting legislation. This was accomplished by constitutional amendment approved in 1898. These two forms of direct legislation, first used in 1908, rest on the theory that since the legislature may not always adequately represent them, the people should be able to pass laws they desire and nullify laws they oppose.
In 1972 the state constitution was amended to allow constitutional changes by initiative as well.
In 1988 the state's voters changed the state constitution to eliminate a requirement that an initiative be submitted to the legislature for approval before placement on the ballot.
Initiated Measure: This is a petition to add to, amend, or repeal existing state statutes. Initiative petitions must be filed in the office of the Secretary of State one year before the general election (SDCL 2-1-1.2) (November 8, 2015). The petition must have signatures of active or inactive registered voters equal to five percent (13,871) of the total vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election. No signatures may be obtained more than 24 months preceding the election date designated on the petition.
Referred Law: This is a petition to prevent a measure passed by the Legislature from becoming effective. It must have signatures of registered voters equal to five percent (13,871) of the total vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election and must be filed within 90 days of adjournment of the legislative session in which the measure was passed (SDCL 2-1-3.1). Measures which may be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions are not subject to referendum (SD Const., Art. III, Sec. 1).
Initiated Constitutional Amendment: This is a petition proposing to amend, repeal, or add to provisions in the South Dakota state constitution. The petition must have signatures of active or inactive registered voters equal to ten percent (27,741) of the total vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election and must be filed in the Secretary of State's office one year before the general election (SD Const., Art. XXIII, Sec. 1) (November 8, 2015). No signatures may be obtained more than 24 months preceding the election date designated on the petition.
The sponsors of any initiated measure or constitutional amendment must submit that text to the director of the legislative research council who will within 15 days provide written comments on the measure to the sponsors and the Secretary of State. The comments must be received by the secretary of state prior to filing the measure's full text (SDCL 12-13-25&26).
Following receipt of the written comments, the sponsors shall submit the final language to the attorney general who will prepare a title and explanation within sixty days. (SDCL 12-13-25.1)
The full text of any Initiated Measure or Initiated Constitutional Amendment petition to be circulated, the title and explanation as provided by the attorney general, the date of the general election at which the question is to be submitted, a notarized form that includes the names and addresses of the petition sponsors, and statement of organization as provided in SDCL § 12-27-6 shall be filed with the Secretary of State prior to circulation for signatures. No signatures obtained before that filing date will be counted.
Petition circulators must provide to each signer a copy of the title and explanation provided by the attorney general. The form shall be approved by the Secretary of State prior to circulation.
All sections of any completed ballot question petition shall be filed simultaneously together with a sworn affidavit prescribed by the State Board of Elections signed by two-thirds of the sponsors.
November 8, 2015 is the deadline for filing constitutional amendment or initiated measure petitions.