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Senate narrowly passes bill to change election process in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota State Senate narrowly passed a bill that would drastically change the way statewide elected officials are elected.

Members of the Senate State Affairs committee want to take all elected offices out of the convention process, and put them on the primary ballot. Senate Bill 40, sponsored by Sen. David Johnson (R-Rapid City), would “revise the process for nominating candidates,” putting every statewide office on the primary ballot that is not already there.

Currently, party nominees for statewide offices from Lieutenant Governor to Attorney General to the Commissioner of School and Public Lands are decided in a convention, for both Democrats and Republicans. If passed, the Governor would get to pick their Lieutenant Governor, and all other offices would be put on the ballot.

Johnson said the proposal has nothing to do with the most recent state Republican convention and everything to do with the grassroots.” He was referring to last years Republican convention where a number of non-establishment candidates either won, or came close to doing so.

Proponents of the concept argue that it would make South Dakota elections more open. “South Dakotans, citizens, the grassroots, want to vote for their own leadership,” said Johnson. “SB 40 allows that to finally happen.”

But opponents, like the South Dakota Republican Central Committee, oppose it. They believe that changing the convention process would be reactionary, and hurt rural areas by pushing candidates to focus on the state’s two population centers; Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

“If this bill passes, we would have effectively abandoned a nomination process that has been a bedrock of our representative democracy that we have here in South Dakota,” said Sen. Tom Pischke (R-Dell Rapids).

While passing, the 18-16 vote in the Senate is an indictor of how the debate and final outcome could be in the House.

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