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Independents Never on Equal Footing with Party Candidates; SB 69 Makes Inequality Worse

The GOP spin blog wallows in Newspeak again. Having already established that he does not understand Senate Bill 69, Pat Powers cites some nameless reader’s absurd assertion that reducing voters’ rights actually “puts them on equal footing with the R’s and D’s – collecting signatures from Independents and requiring the same percentage.”

Under no political circumstance are South Dakota Independents like Kurt Evans, Larry Pressler, or the other 105,000 registered Independents who make up 20% of South Dakota’s electorate “on an equal footing” with candidates of the two major parties.

Organizationally, Independents have no reliable, ongoing network to tap for assistance in circulating petitions, raising money, and getting out the vote. They have no institutional knowledge or brand recognition to help them win elections. They have no representatives in state government to protect their electoral interests. Independents have never been in a position to make rules to benefit their selfish political interests; they have always been subject to rules made for them by Republican and Democratic partisans whose narrow interests include boxing out non-party and new-party challengers.

Philosophically, we do not place Independents on an equal footing with partisan candidates by restricting the folks from whom they may seek nominating signatures to fellow Independents. “You can only get signatures from members of your own party” only makes sense for candidates who have a party, who are seeking nomination to a party primary ballot. That’s party business. Independents seek nomination to the general election ballot. That’s every voter’s business; every voter ought to be able to sign an Independent’s petition.

Sample Independents across South Dakota, and you’ll find a wide range of beliefs that would defy boiling down to a unifying platform. You may find only one common idea: that party affiliation should not matter. Telling Independents they must ask voters’ party affiliation and reject the nomination of party members contradicts what may be the only philosophical underpinning of Independence. That restriction is like telling South Dakota Republicans they have to vote for a state income tax, or telling South Dakota Democrats they have to vote to repeal initiative and referendum.

Senate Bill 69 is not about equality. It’s about punishing Independents for daring to operate outside the party system and making it even harder for them to run for office and offer their ideas and service to all South Dakotans.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-03-23 10:19

    SDGOP tyranny, Cory? What a freaking surprise.

  2. Kurt Evans 2015-03-23 11:36

    Another great post, Cory. As a commenter on the Powers post noted, an independent campaign also doesn’t get the exposure of a taxpayer-financed primary election, or the freedom to name a replacement if the candidate relocates in June or gets sick in July.

    When I ran for Congress in 1996, any citizen with any party affiliation could run an independent campaign and have that affiliation printed on the ballot, and nominating petitions weren’t due until August 6.

    An independent candidate had a small line printed below his or her name that said, “affiliated with the [Democratic/Republican/Green/Libertarian/Reform/no] party.” I was “affiliated with no party” on the ballot, but I’d actually voted in the early presidential primary in February before I re-registered with no party affiliation and began circulating my petitions. The other independent candidate was listed on the ballot as “affiliated with the Reform Party,” which wasn’t even a recognized party in South Dakota.

    I believe the general election ought to stand above restrictions based on party affiliation, as it did then. As an individual citizen, a Republican or Democrat who isn’t happy with either of the major-party nominees for an office has as much right to run against them as anyone else. From another perspective, your tax dollars pay for the primary elections. The fact that you may (or may not) end up on the general election ballot as an independent candidate shouldn’t deprive you of the freedom to participate in those primaries.

    On a related topic, because our primary elections are publicly funded, their nominating requirements shouldn’t be so restrictive that recognized (non-Republican) parties are unable to draw at least two candidates for most offices. On another related topic, a return to 1996 election laws would allow independent campaigns as a reasonable way for Democrats to qualify for the ballot when a candidate steps forward after the primary filing deadline.

    There’s simply no moral justification for Democrats, Libertarians or independents to be held to early filing deadlines for races in which they have no primaries.

    Powers wrote: “Democrats have abused the law for years by using placeholders so they can recruit past the deadline.” The commenter mentioned above astutely observed that giving citizens alternatives isn’t abuse. Denying them alternatives is abuse.

    It’s interesting that Republicans have dominated South Dakota politics for most of its history, but for the first 100-plus years, they mostly respected the right of South Dakota citizens to choose their leaders in free elections. The current class of Republican legislators is different. The smug arrogance with which they dismiss the concerns of seasoned political veterans like Richard Winger and Bernie Hunhoff indicates a disappointing lack of wisdom and maturity.

    My apologies to those who’ve seen me post the following before:

    Since 1996, I believe our Republican state legislature has moved the filing deadline for independent candidates forward at least three times: first from August to two weeks after the primaries, then to the day of the primaries, and finally to the current date in April.

    When the legislature first moved the date from August to June, Ralph Nader sued and won, forcing the state to move the deadline back to August, but the ruling only applied to presidential candidates.

    When the legislature tried to move the date from June to April in 2009, Secretary of State Chris Nelson warned, “At some point, an independent’s going to challenge that. Their question to the court is going to be, what is the state’s compelling interest for compelling … an independent candidate to file so early?” Nelson added, “The state doesn’t need to know who independent candidates are until August, when we begin putting the ballot together.”

    The 2009 bill, which was cosponsored by Jason Gant, was defeated. In 2012, the same bill was reintroduced. Secretary of State Jason Gant testified in support, and it passed. Shantel Krebs voted in favor of the bill.

    There are clear legal precedents declaring independent and minor-party early petition deadlines invalid. The only interest in an earlier date for independent candidates is not a state interest but a partisan one.

  3. larry kurtz 2015-03-23 11:42


  4. Kurt Evans 2015-03-23 13:02

    Since 1938, North Dakota has had more than 30 non-major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate. Iowa has had about 50, and Minnesota has had more than 60. Including Gordon Howie and Larry Pressler in 2014, South Dakota has had 8.

    But Pat Powers is happy to see SB 69 depriving South Dakota’s independent candidates of their supposed unfair advantages over Republicans.

    I’d say 69 was definitely an appropriate number for this bill, because it turns the entire concept of free elections upside-down.

  5. leslie 2015-03-24 02:42


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