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South Dakota voters to decide on open primaries in 2024

South Dakota is one of the states where the Republican Party dominates the political landscape, leaving little room for other parties and independent candidates to compete. However, this could change in 2024, when voters will have the chance to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would allow for open primaries in most races.

What are open primaries and how do they work?

Open primaries are a system of elections where all registered voters, regardless of their party affiliation, can participate in choosing the candidates who will advance to the general election. The top two vote-getters, regardless of their party, will face each other in the general election.

Currently, South Dakota has a semi-closed primary system, where only registered Republicans can vote in Republican primaries, while Democrats and Independents can vote in Democratic primaries. This means that about 25% of the state’s voters, who are registered as Independents, are excluded from the Republican primaries, where most races are decided due to the lack of Democratic competition.

Open primaries proponents argue that this system is unfair and undemocratic, and that it leads to the election of more extreme and partisan candidates who do not represent the majority of the voters. They claim that open primaries would increase voter participation, encourage more moderate and diverse candidates, and reduce the influence of party bosses and special interests.

South Dakota voters to decide on open primaries in 2024

Who is behind the open primaries campaign in South Dakota?

The main group pushing for open primaries in South Dakota is South Dakota Open Primaries, a bipartisan coalition of former and current elected officials, civic leaders, and activists who believe in reforming the state’s electoral system. The group is led by Joe Kirby, a Sioux Falls businessman and government reform advocate who was also involved in a previous attempt to pass a similar measure in 2016.

The group has submitted a petition with more than 50,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office, which is currently verifying them. If enough signatures are validated, the constitutional amendment will be placed on the 2024 general election ballot for the voters to decide.

The group has also received significant financial support from Open Primaries, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for open primaries across the country. According to the campaign finance reports, Open Primaries has contributed more than $600,000 to South Dakota Open Primaries, making it the largest donor to the campaign.

What are the arguments for and against open primaries in South Dakota?

Supporters of open primaries in South Dakota say that the current system is broken and that it disenfranchises a large segment of the electorate. They point out that in 2022, 70% of the state legislative races and 100% of the county races were decided in the Republican primaries, leaving no choice for the voters in the general election. They also cite a recent poll that shows that nearly half of the South Dakota voters support the open primaries amendment, while only 28% oppose it.

Opponents of open primaries in South Dakota say that the proposed amendment is unnecessary and that it would undermine the role of political parties and the rights of their members. They argue that open primaries would allow for cross-over voting, where voters from one party could interfere with the nomination process of another party. They also warn that open primaries could lead to more expensive and negative campaigns, as candidates would have to appeal to a broader and more diverse electorate.

What are the chances of open primaries passing in South Dakota?

The fate of open primaries in South Dakota will ultimately depend on the voters, who will have the final say in 2024. However, the campaign faces several challenges and uncertainties, such as the potential opposition from the Republican Party, which holds a strong majority in the state legislature and the executive branch, and the possible legal challenges from the opponents, who could question the constitutionality of the amendment.

The campaign also has to overcome the history of ballot measures in South Dakota, which have often been rejected by the voters or repealed by the lawmakers. In 2016, a similar measure, known as Amendment V, which would have established nonpartisan primaries without party labels, was defeated by 55.5% of the voters, after facing a strong opposition from the Republican leaders and groups.

However, the campaign also has some advantages, such as the support from a diverse and bipartisan coalition, the backing from a national organization with experience and resources, and the public opinion that favors more electoral reforms and choices. The campaign also hopes to learn from the mistakes and feedback of the previous attempt, and to present a more appealing and understandable proposal to the voters.


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