Voters in South Dakota may have an opportunity to change the way elections are conducted in their state. TakeItBack.org submitted over 40,000 signatures to South Dakota's secretary of state Monday in favor of a ballot initiative that would implement nonpartisan, top-two primaries in the state similar to the election model used for state legislative races in Nebraska.
There are three states with some form of nonpartisan, top-two system. California and Washington state use a similar system for all statewide and congressional races. All voters and candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, participate on a single primary ballot and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election
The difference between the systems in these two states and Nebraska is state legislative candidates do not run under a party banner in Nebraska. The initiative proposed in South Dakota would add an amendment to the state constitution that replicates this election model for all statewide and congressional elections.
In order to qualify for the November 2016 ballot, TakeItBack.org had to submit at least 27,741 valid signatures. The group well surpassed this goal and now waits for the secretary of state's office to validate the signatures.
"We were delighted to reach and exceed our goal--we thought 35,000 signatures would be the absolute top end that we could get, especially because we only had two months to get them in, and South Dakota is a small population state with a widely dispersed citizenry," said Drey Samuelson, co-founder of TakeItBack.org.
"The fact that we went far beyond what seemed like a very high goal is proof that folks here are ready for nonpartisan change, and if they respond in November of next year just as they did this year, that's exactly the gift that they'll get."
Samuelson said that with the signatures submitted, the group's focus has already shifted to putting together a more extensive campaign plan, figuring out coalitions, and other ways to build support in the long road to November 2016.
To date, the nonpartisan elections initiative has not encountered much opposition. However, the South Dakota Republican Party did take a shot at the proposal Monday on Twitter:
Samuelson said it is almost a given that the state's Republican Party will continue to oppose the initiative, but expects the Democratic Party to stay neutral. Though he says it is possible for outside groups and big spenders to throw money in opposition to the initiative -- citing the Koch brother's 2012 role in killing top-two in Arizona -- he remains optimistic that voters will continue to respond favorably to the election reform.
"If we have sufficient resources to get our message out [...] we'll win--the momentum for nonpartisan change is much, much greater than any enthusiasm that exists for the tired, partisan system which so obviously is no longer working in this state or country," he explained.
TakeItBack.org is a nonpartisan organization founded by Samuelson and Richard Weiland. The group is dedicated to using “the initiative and referendum process to advance needed political and policy reforms to take our government back from the stranglehold of wealthy special interests,” and aims to recreate a government by the people and for the people.