Governor Kristi Noem can’t figure out her Next Big Thing for South Dakota, but Representative Drew Dennert has an idea: Super Tuesday!
The Aberdeen Republican has filed House Bill 1116, a measure that would move South Dakota’s Presidential primary from nearly last in the nation on the first Tuesday in June, by which time the Presidential nominations are usually mathematically foregone conclusions, to the first Tuesday in March. Other states are still jockeying for their primary dates, but in 2020, fourteen states held Super Tuesday Presidential primaries on March 3, dishing out 1,344 out of 3,979 Democratic delegates and 785 of the 2,550 Republican delegates. On June 2, South Dakota allotted its 16 Democratic delegates and 29 GOP delegates at the same time as seven other jurisdictions; the total allotment that day was 479 Democratic delegates and 300 Republican delegates.
HB 1116 would only move our Presidential primary; the primary for state and local offices would remain in June. We would thus have to haul ourselves to the polls twice: once in March (with a 40% chance of a wet blizzard somewhere in the state) to add our squeak to the Super Tuesday roar, and then again in June to vote for the offices where South Dakotans’ voices really matter. Big spender Dennert offers state funding for all the costs counties incur due to his special Presidential primary.
I generally oppose early elections because they pressure candidates to start campaigning earlier and may thus exclude candidates who might be moved to run for office by later events and government actions. But an early South Dakota Presidential primary would not trigger that disadvantage, as it would not affect the decision timeline for state and local candidates and as other states and the vicious competition for donors and airtime already press Presidential candidates like Kristi Noem to ignore their day jobs and barnstorm the country four years before the election. The debate over HB 1116 will thus center around the usual question: will the extra money we spend to stage an early primary give South Dakota any more influence over the nomination of Presidential candidates than the last time we toyed with early primaries, from 1998 through 1996. In 2007, then-Secretary of State Chris Nelson said an early primary in South Dakota only contributes to a broken election system:
Well, we’re not happy to be last, but we understand reality also. Our legislature looked at moving our primary up to early February, but we saw what other states were doing and realized that most of the rest of the pack was going to end up there and we were simply going to end up being another small state having a primary on the same date as a lot of larger states, and understood that we probably would not get the attention and the traffic that would be needed to warrant separating the presidential primary from our state primary and moving it up and having to deal with all the associated costs involved with that.
…But when we see, as you mentioned, perhaps 29 states on one particular day and a few primaries and caucuses prior to that – you know, I’m fairly convinced that the American public is going to realize that this process is broken [Secretary of State Chris Nelson, interview with Melissa Block, “South Dakota Lets Primaries Stand at June 3,” NPR, 2007.04.05].
Nelson said then he preferred to see a rotating regional primary process that would give each group of states a turn at casting the first Presidential primary votes. But a plan like that would take more than one bill from South Dakota. Hmmm… maybe Representative Dennert could bring that rotating regional primary up at the Article V Convention he and his radical Republican friends are so eager to hold.
HB 1116 awaits the attention of House State Affairs.