South Dakota’s Senate Bill 69, the petition reform bill, has gained unfavorable national attention. The Centrist Project, which promoted Independent U.S. Senate candidates Larry Pressler in South Dakota and Greg Orman in Kansas, reviews South Dakota’s new petition reform law and finds the new limitations on Independent petitioners unfairly deny voters and candidates their rights.
“For voters, by virtue of your membership in a party, either active or lapsed, your electoral rights have been truncated,” said Centrist Project Founder Charles Wheelan, a senior lecturer and policy fellow at the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College and the bestselling author of Naked Economics and The Centrist Manifesto. “This bill forces voters to drop their party affiliation if they want to support an independent candidacy. That’s not a choice that any voter should be forced to make” Wheelan said [Pamela Peak, “South Dakota Bill Limits Voter Choice and Ballot Access for Independents,” The Centrist Project, 2015.03.23].
The Centrist Project recognizes that the South Dakota Legislature is using SB 69 to rig elections further in favor of partisan incumbents:
SB69 includes another amendment, 69fe, to modify the number of signatures required for Independents, from 1% of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, to 1% of the number of voters registered with no party affiliation. At face value, this drops the number of required signatures. In reality, it dramatically increases the number of man hours required to collect signatures because finding people “qualified” to sign will be much more difficult. Of the total number of registered voters in South Dakota, 110,000 are qualified to sign, around 20% of the voting population across the entire state. The change represents a large hurdle for an Independent candidate without the backing of the party machinery to help with collecting signatures.
“I am sure that this bill, if well known, would be unpopular with South Dakota voters, because it takes important rights away from voters and reduces voter choice – no voter would be in favor of that. This bill provides further evidence that both major parties are willing to do anything, including taking away important voting rights, in order to defend their position, and it will only add to voter disillusionment of the two major parties” said Pamela Peak, Executive Director of The Centrist Project [Peak, 2015.03.23].
The Centrist Project asks Governor Dennis Daugaard and our Legislature to “revisit” SB 69, but that train left the station with the Governor’s signature Friday. The only action now that can stop Senate Bill 69 is a referendum to put this bill on ice and let voters decide if they want to give up voting rights in the 2016 election. Perhaps the Centrist Project’s attention is the first step toward gaining more national attention to help fight the South Dakota Legislature’s attack on voting rights.