Remember what I said Tuesday about how any activists interested in launching an initiative petition drive needed to submit their language by Wednesday to avoid a crazy four-month delay? The nice folks at South Dakota Open Primaries did. The group announced yesterday that it has submitted language to the Legislative Research Council for a constitutional amendment to establish open primaries in South Dakota:
That Article VII of the Constitution of South Dakota be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:
§ 4. The purpose of this section is to establish open primary elections for the offices of governor, the legislature, all county elective offices, and the United States Senate and House of Representatives.
Primary elections covered by this section shall be open to all candidates and all voters without regard for candidates’ or voters’ party registration or affiliation, or lack thereof. In a primary election covered by this section, all candidates shall be listed on a single primary ballot regardless of political party, and any voter may vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof. The two candidates receiving the greatest numbers of votes cast shall advance to a general election. If more than one candidate is to be elected to an office, the number of candidates advancing to the general election shall be twice the number to be elected.
Only those candidates properly advancing from the primary election shall appear on the general election ballot; however, the legislature may, by law, establish procedures for replacing candidates who have advanced from the primary election but will not participate in the general election due to death, withdrawal from the race, or disqualification.
Candidates may select a party preference to be listed alongside their names on the primary ballot; the same designation shall appear alongside candidates who advance to the general election. The ballot shall state that a candidate’s indicated party affiliation does not constitute or imply endorsement of the candidate by the party designated, and no candidate for that office shall be deemed the official candidate of any party by virtue of his or her advancement to the general election from the primary election. Endorsement, nomination, or selection by any means by a political party shall be neither necessary nor sufficient for a candidate’s name to appear on any ballot in a primary election covered by this section.
The legislature may pass laws, and the secretary of state and board of elections may adopt rules and regulations, as necessary to implement this section. If any provision of this section or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, such invalidity will not affect any other provision or application of the section that can be given effect without the invalid provisions or applications, and to this end the provisions of this section are severable [South Dakota Open Primaries, draft initiated amendment text, submitted to LRC 2022.11.30].
Note that this amendment would affect only the races for which we currently partisan primaries. The amendment would not affect elections for the statewide constitutional offices—Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Commissioner of School and Public Lands, and Public Utilities Commissioners—whose candidates are nominated at party conventions.
This amendment would affect independent candidates and alternative parties like the Libertarians. Independents currently petition to make the general election ballot; they are not involved in primaries. Alternative parties may nominate candidates for all offices at convention. As I’ve noted in previous analysis of open-primary proposals, this open-primary amendment would override those laws and require new statutes governing the nomination of independents, Libertarians, and other non-major-party participants in elections.
This amendment would might require changing the rule for political parties to maintain their official status. SDCL 12-1-3 definition #12 says that parties retain official status by winning at least 2.5% of the vote for any statewide office. The Libertarians managed that feat this year by running Collin Duprel as the only challenger against Congressman Dusty Johnson and winning 22.6% of the vote. Candidates Tracey Quint for governor and Rene Meyer for auditor also cleared that bar for the Libertarians. If Libertarians, Democrats, or any other party failed to advance any statewide candidates through the open primary and didn’t nominate anyone for the six nominable (finally, something to rhyme with abominable) constitutional offices, the party would lose official recognition.
None of these issues are issues outweigh the general good that open primaries would do for South Dakota voters. It would allow more voters to participate in choosing their elected officials in races where the candidates are all members of one major party (usually Republicans). Every registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, would simply know, “Hey, there’s a primary—I get to vote!” Letting more people have more chances to vote on who handles governing for them is good.
Chairing this petition drive is Joe Kirby, longtime Sioux Falls Republican and sometime blogger. Former Sioux Falls city councilor De Knudson is also on board. Kirby and Knudson have tried twice before to get voters to approve open primaries: their 2016 Amendment V was rejected by voters 44.5% to 55.5%, while their 2017 petition lacked enough signatures to make the 2018 ballot.
Joining Kirby and Knudson on the South Dakota Open Primaries board are former Republican legislator and Minnehaha County Commissioner Tom Dempster and Democratic politico and ballot question aficionado Drey Samuelson.
If the LRC and Attorney General take their fully allotted time to review these measures, Kirby and friends could have open-primary petitions on the streets by mid-March. If they collect 35,017 signatures from registered South Dakota voters by November 6, 2023, South Dakotans will get to vote on adding open primaries to the state constitution at the 2024 general election.