Posted by Jesse Shayne on September 23, 2016 at 11:23 AM
Forces marshal to oppose non-partisan elections
Sen. Mike Rounds and the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry are joining a coalition to oppose a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would establish non-partisan primary elections in South Dakota.
The chamber, one of the state’s heavyweight political organizations, joins a coalition that already includes the Farm Bureau and the South Dakota Association of Cooperatives. Rounds, meanwhile, joins Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem – all Republicans – in opposition to Amendment V.
On the other side, AARP South Dakota and the League of Women Voters of South Dakota have endorsed Amendment V.
The forces lining up on either side of the issue point to its significance. If voters approve the amendment to the state constitution, it would be arguably one of the most sweeping changes in the history of South Dakota’s political system.
If enacted, elections in South Dakota would be non-partisan. That is, candidates for elected offices would appear on the same ballot without their political party designation. In primary elections, the top two vote getters regardless of party affiliation would qualify for the general election ballot for federal, statewide and state Senate races. In state House races, the top four winners in primary elections would face off in the general election.
The amendment wouldn’t apply to presidential and vice presidential elections.
Supporters say it would open primary elections to 115,000 registered voters who are not registered as Republicans or Democrats. Currently, independents are not permitted to vote in Republican primaries, and because Republicans are the dominant party, many offices are decided in primary elections because there is not Democratic opposition in the general election.
Supporters also blame partisan politics for creating gridlock in government at the federal level.
But opponents say that removing party labels deprives voters of basic information about the candidates running for office.
“It’s really hard to argue that Democracy is better served by hiding information from voters,” said Will Mortenson, the chairman of South Dakotans Against V.
David Owen, the president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said his board listened to presentations from both opponents and proponents before deciding to oppose Amendment V. Ultimately, he said his board decided that party affiliations were important for voters.
“We think that not having access to the affiliations makes the whole election process murkier than it should be,” Owen said.
But Rick Knobe, a former mayor of Sioux Falls and the chair of Vote Yes on Amendment V, said in a statement that it was disappointing the chamber put partisan politics ahead of the state’s business climate.
“The only people opposing Amendment V are the political establishment and its partners, like the state chamber board,” Knobe said.
Nancy Hallenbeck, the president of the Sioux Falls League of Women Voters, said supporters of Amendment V include Republicans, Democrats and independents. Passage of the amendment, she added, would ensure that all voters can participate in the process.
If the amendment passes, Hallenbeck predicted that many general elections would feature Republicans running against each other. Moderate candidates who appeal to independents and other moderates would have a better chance of getting elected. The current process, she said, ensures that a small number of ideologically driven voters nominate extreme candidates who go on to win in the general election.
“I feel like we’ve lost the center lately,” Hallenbeck said.