Primary voters would choose most statewide nominees under bill advancing to the House

By: - March 1, 2023 12:12 pm
A voter fills out a ballot on Nov. 8, 2022, at a polling place in Sioux Falls. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

A voter fills out a ballot on Nov. 8, 2022, at a polling place in Sioux Falls. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

A bill to switch the nomination process for most statewide offices from political conventions to primary elections is one step closer to becoming law.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 8-5 on Wednesday at the Capitol in Pierre to send the bill to the House of Representatives. It’s already passed the Senate.

The legislation addresses an inconsistency in the way candidates for statewide offices are nominated to represent political parties in general elections.

Currently, nominees for governor and Congress are chosen in primary elections. Meanwhile, delegates to political party conventions choose nominees for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, commissioner of school and public lands, and public utilities commissioners.

Senate Bill 40 would move party nominations for all but one of those offices into primary elections, which are held in June before November general elections. The one exception is for lieutenant governor nominations. The bill would give candidates for governor the authority to select their own running mate.

Rep. Roger Chase, a Republican from Huron, is the prime sponsor of the bill in the House. He said South Dakota is one of three states that chooses statewide nominees at conventions instead of primaries. That takes power away from hundreds of thousands of voters, he said, and hands it to several hundred convention delegates.

“Remember, our state motto is ‘Under God the people rule.’ It’s not, ‘Under the direction of a chosen few, delegates select our elected leaders,’” Chase said.

Remember, our state motto is ‘Under God the people rule.’ It’s not, ‘Under the direction of a chosen few, delegates select our elected leaders.'

– Rep. Roger Chase, R-Huron

Opponents said the bill would invite more money into politics and make it more expensive to seek nominations for statewide offices, because candidates would have to run statewide campaigns instead of convention campaigns. Opponents also described the bill as a political power play and a reaction to events at recent conventions. 

Last year, Gov. Kristi Noem won 76 percent of the vote in the June Republican primary election. But enough of her opponents secured positions as convention delegates that they nearly forced the selection of her defeated primary challenger, Steve Haugaard, as her running mate over Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden.

Rep. Jon Hansen, a Republican from Dell Rapids, proposed an amendment to the bill that would have targeted only that situation, by deleting all of the bill except the part allowing candidates for governor to choose their own running mate.

“Some want to say that this isn’t a reaction to the events of this one last convention, but let’s face it, that’s basically the case,” Hansen said.

His amendment failed, and the committee sent the bill to the House for consideration before the main portion of this year’s legislative session ends March 9.

Other bills

In other action Wednesday, the committee also recommended House approval of: 

  • Senate Bill 189, which would prohibit government purchasing agencies from contracting with companies owned or controlled by countries including China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
  • Senate Bill 207, which would add a Class 1 misdemeanor penalty into an existing state law that prohibits the spending of public funds to influence the outcome of an election (the current law lacks a penalty).
  • Senate Bill 197, which would prohibit spouses of legislators from being employed as a private lobbyist, in a move widely seen as targeting Mike Mueller, a registered lobbyist and husband of recently censured Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City.
  • And Senate Bill 113, which would set the second Tuesday in March of a general election year as the deadline to submit signed petitions to place an initiated measure on the ballot, in response to litigation and court decisions that threw out the existing deadline of one year prior to the election.




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Seth Tupper
Seth Tupper

Seth is editor-in-chief of South Dakota Searchlight. He was previously a supervising senior producer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting and a newspaper journalist in Rapid City and Mitchell.