ACLU holds writing sessions to help voters contact local legislators

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - More than 60% of South Dakota's registered voters cast their ballots in the midterm elections. And as far as politics, those voters may believe their work is done.

But, the American Civil Liberties Union says voters still have a job to do with the legislative session beginning just a few weeks from now.

On Nov. 28th, the ACLU held their third event in a series they call, "Strongly Worded Letters." And what's in those letters? Voters thoughts about what the real issues need to be in Pierre this January.

"We want to empower people and give them the tools to talk to the people who represent them," Kadyn Wittman, ACLU community engagement associate, said.

Some voters think South Dakota lawmakers aren't listening. But, there is evidence that they do if someone makes an effort. Wittman says a story about one specific lawmaker comes to mind.

"He actually e-mailed her back, and then they met up for coffee so they could talk about what she agreed with his voting record and what she didn't agree with," she said. "And what her hopes were for the legislative session in 2019."

Incoming Speaker of the South Dakota House, Steven Haugaard, tells me he appreciates what the ACLU is doing, so long as the letters convey individual voters concerns and not a specific group's agenda.

"If it's a letter-writing campaign and the individuals have their own opinions that they're expressing well that makes a world of difference," he said. "And we certainly do appreciate members of any organization or the voters, the constituents that want to express their thoughts and feelings to us because we're there to represent them and their interests as well."

Sioux Falls Senator Reynald Nesiba says timing is crucial if you contact lawmakers now before the session they won't be as busy.

"It's much easier to try and catch legislators now, than it is, once the legislative session begins in January it is harder," he said. "We really are really at work from early in the morning until late at night."

These lawmakers may be on opposite sides of the aisle but both agree constituents reaching out is a vital part of democracy.

"I think it's really essential representative democracy is not a spectator sport," Nesiba said. "It really does require everybody being engaged in this process and it really does lead to change."

" We absolutely do want to hear about what people think about any given vote, you know, whether it's before the vote or after the vote we certainly like to hear, and I appreciate having people ask me why I voted a given direction, and I can explain that," Haugaard said.

This was the ACLU's third "Strongly Worded Letter" session. Close to two dozen people have already written letters to lawmakers. The final letter writing session will happen on Dec. 5th.

If you would like to reach out to your 2019 lawmakers, you can click here.