Posted by Jesse Shayne on October 18, 2016 at 12:29 PM
OURS: Election reform can boost participation
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.