PIERRE | The state House of Representatives is considering a change for South Dakota elections that could turn significant.

Rep. Drew Dennert wants lawmakers to let registered independents cast ballots in South Dakota’s party-primary elections. To do so, an independent would first need to mark a party preference.

They also could choose to be neutral. And, between elections, they could change their minds and pick different parties, too.

The House State Affairs Committee liked his idea. Panel members voted 10-2 Wednesday evening to recommend HB 1305 pass. No one spoke against it.

“This bill is a response partially to conversations I’ve had in my district with constituents,” Dennert, R-Aberdeen, said.

The House could take it up Monday afternoon. Dennert said the debate might occur Tuesday.

In South Dakota, political parties decide whether primary elections are open. The Democratic and Libertarian parties allow independents to vote in their primaries. The Constitution and Republican parties close their primaries.

Dennert said he was concerned about a new development that he called an “open-jungle primary” being adopted in South Dakota. A constitutional amendment that would change South Dakota to an open-jungle system was submitted last year for the November statewide ballot. In an open-jungle primary, the top two vote-winners for an office advance to the general election.

He said Louisiana, California and Washington use the system.

Dennert said he doesn’t like that approach. He gave an example: Two Republican candidates advanced from the primary over three Democratic candidates. He prefers “a competition of ideas” on the fall ballot.

Rep. Julie Bartling, D-Gregory, said people who currently are independents would have to make a trip to the county courthouse to re-register.

Dennert said she was correct. Getting independents to change would require an effort, he said. “In large part, it would have to be a p.r. campaign."

But candidates also could recruit independents to support them, Dennert suggested.

House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley of Brookings said voters registered as independents chose to be independents. “They say, ‘I don’t want to pick a party affiliation,” Hawley said.

Independent registrations have grown, Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, said. “This gives them the chance to participate in the process,” he said.

Bartling agreed: “I’m intrigued by the concept. I’m still not 100 percent sure on the mechanisms of it, but I think it’s something we can explore.”

Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, said voters could play the roles of spoilers in primaries.

Rep. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said that already happens. “They can do that now. They can register, (and) re-register every day,” he said.

Rhoden, the committee chairman, supported Dennert’s idea. “It’s certainly worth conversation,” Rhoden said.

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