South Dakota Term Limits, Initiative 1 (1996)

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The South Dakota Term Limits Initiative, also known as Initiative 1, was on the November 5, 1996 ballot in South Dakota as an initiated state statute, where it was approved. The measure required U.S. Senators and Representatives from South Dakota use their powers to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to establish congressional term limits. The measure also required the Secretary of State to place the words "Disregarded Voter's Instructions on Term Limits" next to a candidate's name on the ballot if they did not support this effort. Candidates not yet in office who did not pledge to support the effort had the words "Declined to Pledge to Support Term Limits" placed next to their names on the ballot.[1][2]

Election results

South Dakota Initiative 1 (1996)
Approveda Yes 205,852 67.59%

Election results via: South Dakota Political Almanac, South Dakota Constitutional Amendments, Initiatives and Referendums 1970-2010

Text of measure

The text of the question read:[3]

This initiated law would require the U.S. Senators and Representative from South Dakota to use all of their powers to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which establishes congressional term limits of three terms for a Representative and two terms for a Senator. If the incumbent Senators and Representative do not use their powers in eight designated situations to support a term limits amendment, the Secretary of State would be required to place the words "Disregarded Voter's Instruction on Term Limits" on the ballot next to that candidates name at his/her next election. A candidate who is not currently in the Senate or the House would be given an opportunity to take a pledge supporting term limits and agreeing, if elected, to use his/her powers to enact the amendment. The Secretary of State would be required to place the words "Declined to Pledge to Support Term Limits" on the ballot next to the name of a candidate who refused to pledge. These restrictions would continue until a constitutional amendment establishing term limits is enacted by Congress and ratified by the states.

A vote "YES" would require the Congressional delegation to support congressional term limits in eight designated situations.

A vote "NO" would not impose such a requirement. [4]


Gerald Larson sponsored the initiative. He submitted this argument in its favor to the official ballot pamphlet:[3]

Congress has a clear conflict of interest on term limits. Without pressure from you the voter, the politicians won’t limit themselves. With Initiated Measure 1 the people have the power to make congressional term limits a reality. Voting YES on Initiated Measure 1 will help end business as usual in Washington, D.C. with term limits 25 million Americans have supported.

The President, forty governors, twenty state legislatures and about 3,000 city officials have limited terms. Term limits work for them, and it is time to bring citizen government back to our Congress. The voters of South Dakota overwhelmingly supported term limits in 1992, and that support remains strong.

A recent 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision stated that we must amend the Constitution to place term limits on Congress. A YES vote for Initiated Measure 1 enables voters to take charge to pass a term limits amendment. Congressional incumbents have passed advantages for themselves (paid for by us) that virtually guarantee re-election, including franked mail, congressional television studios, pork barrel politics and fat pensions. These career politicians have skyrocketed the nation’s debt while passing self-serving legislation. Congress, with such lavish perks and advantages, has no intention of passing term limits on itself.

Initiated Measure 1 will create a citizen Congress with legislators who will return with pride to live under the laws they make. It means Congress will meet the needs of their constituents instead of just special interests. Initiated Measure 1 instructs representatives to support term limits voted for by South Dakotans and millions of others across the nation; it lets voters know when representatives don’t act in support of term limits.

The Founders created a government by the people; Congress replaced that with a corrupt system of pork, pensions and privileges that benefit career politicians. Term limits will end rule by career politicians, and restore citizen government to America. Vote YES on Initiated Measure 1 for term limits on Congress. [4]


Dana Hess opposed the initiative. She submitted this argument opposing it to the official ballot pamphlet:[3]

No matter what voters think of term limits for U.S. senators and representatives, they should vote “no” on Initiated Measure 1. After all, voters are like anybody else, they don’t like to have their intelligence insulted.

That’s exactly what Initiated Measure 1 would do as it places crib notes on the ballot to let voters know how incumbent candidates have voted on term limits and if their challengers have taken a pledge to support term limits. Voters have been dutifully sorting out candidates and casting ballots without ever before having this kind of reminder attached to the ballot.

Many voters do make notes to themselves on Election Day, particularly if the ballot is crowded with candidates and initiatives. But, our system has always trusted citizens to make their own choices, and their own notes, without this kind of help printed right on the ballot.

Of course no one can stop voters from casting their ballots for candidates based solely on the term limits issue. After all, it’s a free country.

This initiative, however, takes one-issue politics to its most extreme.

There are many issues that excite the electorate. Limiting terms is only one of many hot topics. Should Initiated Measure 1 pass, information about the candidates’ stands on taxation, abortion and military spending will be coming soon to a ballot near you.

Ultimately, Initiated Measure 1 gives one issue -- one particular interest group -- unprecedented access to the ballot. And they’ll get this presence on the ballot courtesy of your tax dollars.

Sorting through the various candidates and issues is tough enough without having to fight through what amounts to a taxpayer-supported political ad right on your ballot. Vote “no” on Initiated Measure 1. [4]

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