Lalley: Simple answer to complex question complicates slaughterhouse debate

Sioux Falls voters must balance multiple factors from workforce to environment to macro-economics to make a black-and-white decision. Campaigns are charged with the task of educating in a short window of time.

Where to process pigs is the central question for Sioux Falls voters on Nov. 8.
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — It’s a simple question.

Should Sioux Falls allow more slaughterhouses to be built inside the city limits?

There are only two choices for voters living in the city limits on Nov. 8.

The bigger issues at play in the election — long-term economic development, the sustainability of agriculture, the localization of the food supply, protecting air and water quality, workforce development and who decides these things — are decidedly more nuanced.

Roughly five weeks out from that binary decision, the campaigns are charged with cramming a lot of information into a relatively small worm hole of time.


There are roughly 122,000 registered voters living in the city limits of Sioux Falls.

During the last midterm election in 2018, the turnout was about 65% statewide.

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s say all that holds true for 2022. That means about 79,000 urban residents will vote in November on an issue with implications for an agriculture-dependent economy.

To be sure, the results affect citizens for many miles around the corporal city limits, but it’s being made by the people who live inside the line.

That’s a burden for the voters and a huge challenge for the campaigns. Such is the responsibility and consequence of direct democracy.

How do you reach people who are increasingly isolated from mass media, able to customize their stream of information to the topics that best suit their wants and desires?.

Sure, there’s TV and radio, the power of which has been diluted by technology. When you’re trying to slice and dice an electorate based on a limited geography, like the 80-square miles of Sioux Falls, they are not as cost effective as you might want.

There’s social media and Google ads and all manner of digital invasion to your mental space.


Then there’s your old and dear friend, the U.S. Postal Service. That’s right, to paraphrase Bill Murray’s brother, Brian, in the original "National Lampoon's Vacation," “We like to send out a mailer.”

Now, if this were a race for a spot on the city council or legislative seat, they’d be out there pounding the pavement. But that’s when a candidate, the actual person you’re voting for, shows up at the door to talk.

I don’t know that a random person ringing the bell to talk about pork processing would be as effective. Maybe.

I have no particular insight into the tactics of the campaign committees, but I know they’re all smart people with plenty of experience in electoral politics.

My guess would be you’ll start seeing election-related pitches in your mailbox and, remarkably, when you’re online trying to book tickets to Cabo in January. Just saying the words “Sioux Falls” and “pork” within range of your phone is sure to attract a Google ad or two.

Ah, life in the digital era. Ain’t it grand?

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “I get it. Things are rough all over.” (Yeah, that’s straight out of "The Outsiders." I make no apology.)

But it does beg the question: What is the right thing to do for the community? By that I mean your neighborhood, your city, the next concentric layer and the next.


They are all interrelated. No economic or social system operates in a vacuum. So the vote that one person makes in Sioux Falls affects the livelihood of another person in, say, Alexandria, South Dakota.

There are very clever people making decisions right now about how to “message” their position. What is it that will make a voter in Sioux Falls punch yes or no?

That’s what you’ll see — if you live in Sioux Falls — over the next five weeks.

Both sides have plenty of money, or at least access to it.

So expect some pointed images of animal processing and green suburban neighborhoods and business prosperity and I don’t know what else. It’s coming.

The challenge for voters is to take the time to think a bit about the forces at play and make a decision based, at least a little, on the broader factors about how and where we live.

We do our best to put it all into the context of economics, the environment, workforce and infrastructure. If you have questions, whether you live in Sioux Falls and are registered to vote or not, drop me a note and I’ll try to help.

It's not a simple or easy question.

But you only get two choices.

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for the Forum News Service in Sioux Falls. Reach him at
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