Dan Lederman and the elitists running the South Dakota Republican Party scared just enough of their members into killing House Bill 1305 last week. The GOP elites’ hollering against Rep. Drew Dennert’s proposal to let independents sign up to vote in the primaries exposes their commitment to hogwash and hyperpartisanship.
First, in his Monday morning blast to party loyalists, Chairman Lederman misrepresented House Bill 1305 as a reincarnation of Amendment V, the top-two open-primary proposal we voted down in the 2016 election. Lederman also misrepresents the vote against Amendment V:
House Bill 1305 is legislation which is contrary to the expressed will of the voters. Voters rejected 2016’s Constitutional Amendment V, which proposed to do the same thing, in a landslide (63 of 66 Counties, 55% to 45%) [SDGOP Chair Dan Lederman, “Legislative Action Alert—Vote NO on HB 1305,” reprinted on Dakota War College, 2018.02.12].
House Bill 1305 was far from the same thing as Amendment V. HB 1305 did one thing, allowing independents to mark on their voter registration card which party’s primary they would like to vote in, if any. HB 1305 allowed no primary-day walk-in choice; independents would still have to file their preference with their registration no later than fifteen days before the election, per current statute (SDCL 12-4-5).
Amendment V took an entirely different approach to allowing independents and every other registered voter to vote in the primary. Amendment V changed the entire election system: it would have eliminated separate party primaries and put every candidate of every party and independents on a single primary ballot. Every voter, partisan or independent, would have received the same ballot with the same complete list of candidates on Primary Day. The ballot would have shown just candidate names, no party labels. The two top vote-getters for each seat would then have advanced to the general election.
Amendment V offered voters a completely different system of selecting candidates, and voters rejected that system. House Bill 1305 maintained separate primaries for each party. House Bill 1305 maintained independent candidates’ ability to skip the primary and petition themselves directly onto the general election ballot. A vote against Amendment V in 2016 was in no clear way a vote against House Bill 1305 in 2018.
But if Chairman Lederman wants to talk about legislators acting “contrary to the will of the voters,” he has to explain why he supported the Republicans’ direct contradiction of the will of the voters in the repeal of Initiated Measure 22, why he didn’t oppose his Republican Speaker G. Mark Mickelson’s effort (now aborted for fear of a bruising, big-money campaign) to repeal Amendment S, or why he himself sponsored and voted for the youth minimum wage cut in 2015 in direct contradiction to the will of the voters expressed in 2014’s Initiated Measure 18 to raise the minimum wage for all workers.
Amendment V failed 44.5% Yea to 55.5% Nay. An eleven-point gap counts as a landslide in very few eyes (15-point gap is the more usual measure; election guru Nate Silver says 20). But if Amendment V lost in a landslide, then the minimum wage hike in 2014 won by a near-landslide 55.05% to 44.95%. And Lederman must count the 70%-plus No votes against the Republican minimum wage cut and Incumbent Protection Act on the 2016 ballot as extinction-level asteroid strikes.
Lederman’s hogwash prompted party activists like South Dakota Federation of Republican Women board member Judy A.B. Jelbert of Spearfish to send out this exaggerated partisan squallering about HB 1305:
…This bill would allow registered Independents to vote in OUR Republican Primary elections. Right now, as you know, only registered Republican voters can vote in our Primary Elections. This proposed bill would open the doors to all kinds of questionable things! Cross over voting would occur – Democrats could temporarily change their voter registration to Independent, and then vote in our GOP Primary. They would likely vote for the weaker candidates, the ones they would have the best chance of defeating in November! This could have far reaching effects on our political organization.
Independents need to choose a political party! They must read and embrace its platform. These steps are required if they want to be able to vote in our Primary election. They need to become a registered voter in one of the parties that has Primary elections! These Independents being able to vote in our primary elections could really sway results in a very negative way! This is the effort of out of state operatives who are trying to turn our Conservative state of South Dakota Blue in a very subversive way [Judy A.B. Jelbert, e-mail, 2018.02.12].
Are Republicans now going to ascribe every proposal they don’t like to out-of-state bogeymen? HB 1305’s sponsor was District 3 Republican Representative Drew Dennert from Aberdeen. If Dennert has a subversive bone in his body, it doesn’t twinkle “Blue”. No one, foreign or domestic, showed up to testify for HB 1305 in committee.
The doors that Jelbert alleged HB 1305 would have opened to “questionable things” are already open. Sneaky-devil Democrats don’t need HB 1305 to vote in the GOP primary and saddle Republicans with Neal Tapio and Kristi Noem as their nominees; we can already use the exact mechanism Jelbert cries about, changing party registration temporarily. (In the high school policy debate world, we say, “The Disad is non-Unique!”) Besides, Dan Lederman himself, like other leading Republicans, has said switching parties is O.K., so what’s the beef?
Jelbert gets carried away with the extra-statutory claim that one “must read and embrace” the Republican Party platform to vote in the Republican primary. Reread SDCL 12-6-26: “No person may vote a party ballot at any primary election unless the person is registered as a member of that political party in the precinct in which the person seeks to vote.” The county auditor hands out no party platform and conducts no reading test when voters register. Like most voters, I haven’t read my party’s platform word for word, but that doesn’t matter at the primary polls.
And Jelbert’s fellow party elites don’t hold their platform sacred: every time the Stace Nelson wing of the Republican Party brings up certain elected Republicans’ lack of fealty to the GOP platform, the party machine sheds platform and principle and backs its chosen people. Last Monday, Rep. Sue Peterson (R-13/Sioux Falls) and 26 other Republicans voted for HB 1120, a clear abrogation of SDGOP Platform Plank 4.2—”We support local control of education in our state.” Will Jelbert call for stripping Sue Peterson, G. Mark Mickelson, and the other local-control apostates of their party membership and primary vote?
Whatever motivated Jelbert’s and Lederman’s hogwash about House Bill 1305, it wasn’t a sincere concern for voter rights, party platform, or fact. It was more likely their desire to maintain their power over an elitist club.