Heightened political awareness and a sense of urgency on both sides of the political aisle spiked a greater than usual voter participation in the 2018 election. About 63 percent of South Dakotans cast their ballot in last month’s midterm election, compared to about 54 percent in 2014.
But now that the election is complete and the “Monday morning quarterbacking” regarding the outcomes and implications is over, the big question for many is, “Now what?”
Our democracy depends on people staying engaged after Election Day. With the South Dakota legislative session beginning in just a few weeks, we all still have a job to do.
Decisions made during the annual sessions of the South Dakota Legislature have a deep and lasting impact on our state’s people and communities. As new laws are created and others repealed or written, it’s important to ensure that these changes preserve and strengthen our constitutional rights.
The ACLU of South Dakota monitors a wide range of issues at the legislature. Our education, organizing and lobbying efforts are aimed at informing both lawmakers and the public about the civil rights and civil liberties implications of the bills proposed by our elected officials.
But we can’t do it alone. There are countless ways to create positive change during the South Dakota legislative session. One tried and true way is contacting your elected officials.
I know people are often hesitant to get involved in the political process. People believe legislators only listen to high-powered lobbyists and big donors, they don’t think legislation will affect their lives directly, or they don’t understand how the process works. In fact, a 2017 report by the National Conference on Citizenship found that fewer Americans believe they have a say in government or that public officials actually care about what they think.
That’s not true. The single most important factor in influencing how a legislator votes on a bill has always been constituent support. And since very few people take the time to contact their legislators, one visit, one phone call, or one letter from a constituent speaks volumes. I urge you to give it a try!
The South Dakota Legislature’s website lists each legislator’s contact information so you can call, write or email them to express your support or opposition to an issue area or specific piece of legislation. Elected officials use email and letters as a way to measure public opinion in their district. Phone calls are especially useful when a vote has been scheduled and there isn’t time for a letter. You can also request a meeting with your legislator or make plans to attend a legislative coffee or cracker barrel.
Even if your legislator is supportive of your issues, you should still call, visit, or write, since they will hear the other side, too. Elected officials need to hear how important an issue is from their constituents.
Whatever you do, remember this: Your voice matters. Your elected officials are South Dakotans, just like you. Everyone has the right to participate in the government process, and we need to hold our elected officials accountable.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Watertown Public Opinion.