Referred Law 19 and Amendments T and V address the political process in South Dakota. In one case voters are being asked to overturn a law passed in the 2016 session of the Legislature. The amendments seek to change how the state does redistricting and how future elections are held.
Of the four ballot measures that address campaign reform this year, none would be more evident to voters than Amendment V, which creates nonpartisan elections for every statewide office, including governor, attorney general, secretary of state, the state Legislature and Congress.
The proposed amendment, which has Democratic and Republican supporters, makes two major changes in the state's elections.
First, it creates an open-primary system where every registered voter can participate. Currently, the state's Republican primary is closed to independent voters, while the Democratic primary is open to them.
Secondly, the primary election is nonpartisan, which means all candidates in a district are on the same ballot but in name only as party designation is not included. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary face off in the general election.
Opponents of Amendment V claim this measure makes the ballot less transparent as voters will be deprived of key information, which is the party affiliation of the candidates. Rather than an open-primary system, they call it a "hidden primary" in the ballot argument opposing the measure. They also claim nonpartisan elections will actually harm independent candidates by making it more difficult for them to get elected.
Currently, no independent candidates and only a handful of Democrats are serving in the state Legislature. Republicans, meanwhile, dominate the Legislature and hold every statewide office.
In fact, the Republican super majority is such in South Dakota that many of our legislative elections, especially West River, are determined in Republican primary elections as Democrats and independents often do not field candidates in races that are considered foregone conclusions, which deprives voters of vigorous debates on the issues.
As a result, a candidate who only wins a primary race can be elected to the Legislature with fewer than 4,000 votes in a process that disenfranchises around 115,000 registered independent voters.
The status quo is also having a negative impact on voter turnout. For example, only 22 percent of voters statewide participated in the primary election in June.
An open, nonpartisan primary will likely encourage more people to run for office, candidates to work harder for votes and, most importantly, greater turnout on election day. It also is unlikely to radically alter the makeup of the current Legislature. In Nebraska, which has had nonpartisan elections for years, the Legislature is 71 percent Republican. The amendment also doesn't prohibit candidates from running as Republicans, Democrats or independents. Finally, it is important to note that city, county and school board elections are already nonpartisan in South Dakota.
The Journal editorial board recommends a "yes" vote on Amendment V.
Referred Law 19
As is the case with all referred laws on the ballot, this is a bid to overturn a state law. In the 2016 session, the Legislature approved a bill that, among other things, prohibits registered Democrats and Republicans from signing nominating petitions being circulated by independent candidates. It also requires Democratic and Republican candidates to get more signatures on their nominating petitions.
In making the ballot argument for the law, Rapid City lawmaker Brian Gosch writes: "Passage of Referred Law 19 will mean fair and honest elections, increased transparency and will prevent abuses of the election process. Republicans drafted this bill, Republican legislators passed it, and a Republican governor signed it. Every voter, especially Republicans, should support Referred Law 19."
Opponents argue that it will make it more difficult for independents and others to run for a statewide office.
Any law that prohibits registered voters from signing any candidate petition clearly limits free speech and is undemocratic at its core. Everyone should be encouraged to participate in the election process.
The Journal editorial board recommends a "no" vote on Referred Law 19.
Every 10 years after U.S. Census results are released the states are charged with looking at voting district boundaries to determine if they need to be realigned. Currently, the South Dakota Legislature is charged with the redistricting task.
Amendment T removes that authority from a committee of 15 state lawmakers and grants it to a nine-member redistricting commission that would consist of three Republicans, three Democrats and three others unaffiliated with the two major parties. The State Board of Elections would select the committee members from a pool of up to 30 applicants. Those in the pool also cannot have served in an elected or party office for three years prior to the appointment and three years after their term ends.
Supporters of Amendment T say it will remove politics from redistricting, while opponents claim a commission undermines the will of the voters who elect lawmakers to the Legislature.
It seems, however, that letting the majority party determine voting-district borders invariably politicizes a process that should be exempt from the partisan warfare that is prevalent in today’s elected bodies. An approach that takes the politics out of redistricting will foster more confidence in the results of the political process.
The Journal editorial board recommends a “yes” vote on Amendment T.