Posted by Jesse Shayne on August 23, 2016 at 10:54 AM
My Voice: Nonpartisan elections: It’s time for change
Americans are fed up with partisan politics at both the national and state level. It’s time to put the voters back in charge and send a message to Pierre and Washington by passing Amendment V - Nonpartisan Elections.
Two decades ago, I joined with other community leaders to fix the problems with Sioux Falls city government. We crafted a much better way for city government to operate and then took it to voters for approval. Our principal opposition was public officials and others who sought to protect the status quo. Voters saw through that self-interest and approved the change. The rest is history; our city is thriving and has never regretted the change to better government. Now our state has a similar opportunity.
Amendment V, on the ballot this November, would bring a nonpartisan election system to the state. Similar systems work well elsewhere – particularly in Nebraska, which has used this system for nearly 80 years to elect their legislature. I am genuinely excited, because I think it could fix a number of problems, both in our state and nationally.
Most of us recognize that our political system is broken. Our presidential choices, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, are two very unpopular people. Our Congress is held in extremely low regard and is best known for partisan gridlock. Nearly half the country has fled both parties and become independent.
South Dakota is also suffering from a shortage of new ideas and a lack of public debate. We live in a one party state. S.D.’s ruling party serves as a gatekeeper to the system; people who want to run for office must swear allegiance to the party platform and a set of partisan principles. One can only wonder whether we would have had the GEAR UP and EB-5 scandals in a more functional democracy. S.D.’s legislature often leans far right on social issues and nearly destroyed our tourism industry with an ill-advised bill on bathrooms earlier this year.
Sadly, many South Dakotans have little voice in our state government. Democrats, independents and even moderate Republicans are underrepresented. A shocking number of elective offices across the state are filled without a primary or even a general election contest. My friends who run the party like that system, but I believe it is patently unfair.
Amendment V would give voters back their democracy. Just like we do for Mayor or City Council, all candidates would run on a single ballot. All voters would be able to vote for whomever they wanted, regardless of party. The top two vote getters would then move on to the general election in November. The result is that all voters would have a voice, and we would again see competition in our elections, along with increased voter interest and participation. A side benefit experienced in other states is an increase in candidates.
Some are concerned that taking the party designation from the ballot might somehow reduce transparency. But candidates and parties will still be able to advertise party affiliation all they want. Lazy voters will be encouraged to do more than go into the ballot box and check “D” or “R.”
Nonpartisan elections will allow candidates and public officials to be more independent, to vote their conscience and to not be beholden to a party line. Based on experience in Nebraska’s nonpartisan legislative elections, this system improves the quality of candidates in the general election. The best two make it to the finals – regardless of party affiliation. It also tends to take the ‘hyper’ out of partisanship; the more moderate of the two in the general election often has an advantage. That means voters can elect public servants, instead of party servants.
I’m asking the voters of S.D. to join me in supporting Amendment V. Our current politicized system in S.D. no longer works. It delivers a partisan, too-far-right leaning legislature that has provided ineffective oversight to the operations of state government. It’s time for us to change the game so we get more balance and quality in our state government.
Joe Kirby, a registered Republican, is a fourth-generation South Dakotan and a retired businessman. He helped initiate the successful 1994 campaign to modernize Sioux Falls city government and now helps non-profits with strategic planning. He is supporting Amendment V, because of his belief in the need to include more voices in the political process to generate new ideas for the future of South Dakota. My Voice columns should be 500 to 700 words. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships.