Nebraska trio backing South Dakota measure to go nonpartisan - Open Primaries
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Posted by Russell Daniels on May 11, 2016 at 3:36 PM


Nebraska trio backing South Dakota measure to go nonpartisan

This article was written by Dirk Lammers for Rapid City Journal 

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Three Nebraska state legislators with South Dakota ties are lending their voices of support to a South Dakota constitutional amendment that would remove candidates' party affiliations from primary and general election ballots.

Nebraska has a nonpartisan, one-chamber legislature, in which Republican and Democratic candidates run against each other in primaries and the top vote-getters advance to the general election. If passed by South Dakota voters on Nov. 8, the measure championed by former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland with help from the non-profit Open Primaries would adopt a similar system for state House and Senate seats and other statewide offices.

Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley, a Republican, says that state's system has worked well for nearly 80 years, and it shouldn't be foreign to South Dakota voters because they already use it in municipal elections. There are no party caucuses, so instead of party leaders telling party members how to vote, bill sponsors have to round up 25 "Yes" votes in order to get their legislation to pass.

"It becomes their bill, and they're basically the one that has to build a coalition," said Hadley, a former University of South Dakota business professor and dean.

The South Dakota Republican Party opposes the measure.

Ryan Budmayr, the party's executive director, said removing candidates' party affiliations from election ballots strips away transparency and denies voters relevant information.

"Party label lets voters know where candidates stand on significant issues," Budmayr said.

The South Dakota Democratic Party has not taken an official stance on the ballot measure, and party chairwoman Ann Tornberg declined comment on the issue.

Nebraska Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat who attended Sioux Falls' Lincoln High School, said Nebraska's system is more inclusive because it doesn't lock independent voters out of the primary system.

"It's less about the parties and more about the ideas," Morfeld said.

Nebraska Sen. Colby Coash, a Republican who has been in office for eight years, said the growing segment of independents in his district required him to court Republicans, Democrats and Independents if he wanted to win and keep his seat. So when Coash was sworn into office, he carried the voices of all voters, he said. Those who win a party primary but have no real opposition in the general election carry just their party's voice.

"It breeds a lazy candidate," said Coash, who grew up just south of the South Dakota-Nebraska border. "If you run for office and you're out there talking to voters, and your race is over nine, 10 months before you're sworn in, you've got no reason to go out and connect with the people who sent you there."

Jon Schaff, a Northern State University political science professor, said voters' default choice on ballot measures is typically no, as many choose the status quo on complicated issues. But a the measurable frustration with the so-called "business as usual" in national politics, evidenced by their support of non-establishment candidates such as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, might give the initiative a fighting chance.

"It's just a matter of how riled up are the people and do they see that as a carrier of that anger," Schaff said.

Weiland, who has gathered support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents, thinks the measure has a shot in the current political climate.

"There's a tail wind," Weiland said. "People are looking for something different."

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