As the election day approaches, Republicans and Democrats face off in their usual fashion. But this election may be the last time voters get to see party labels on their ballots. Included on the ballot this year is Amendment V, which proposes that South Dakota state elections should be nonpartisan.
“This is arguably the most profound change to the state’s political system since the state was created,” said Jonathan Ellis, a political reporter for the Argus Leader.
The South Dakota Republican Party is against the amendment, while the Democratic Party is for it. The executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, Ryan Budmayr, believes that out of state interests are driving the support for Amendment V.
“Because it is so easy to get on the ballot in South Dakota, they use us as sort of a testing ground,” Budmayr said. “This is a way to change the rules mid-game to try to get Democrats elected.”
Rick Weiland, a Democrat who ran for Senate in 2014, sees Amendment V differently. He believes the amendment will create a political system in South Dakota “that’s about ideas, and not about party politics.”
“We’ve decided the system is screwed up and needs to be fixed. Democracy needs to be fixed sometimes,” Weiland explained. “I believe that people are hungry to fix their democracy.”
Budmayr attributes reluctance to support Amendment V to the out-of-state money funding it, which totals around 76 percent of the funds. According to Budmayr, an organization called Open Primaries is behind 72 percent of this money.
Weiland confirmed that Open Primaries contributes a portion of the money supporting Amendment V. He also explained that it was the Vote Yes on V campaign that first approached Open Primaries about funding.
Aside from questions about funding, opponents believe that the average person will not like the change.
“It truly is, in my opinion, the least transparent measure that South Dakota has ever seen,” Budmayr said. “If people don’t know what it is, they’ll likely vote no.”
Emily Wanless, a government professor at Augustana University, agrees that people may vote no on this amendment.
“We are wary of change as a people,” Wanless said. “And this is a really big change.”
Weiland agrees. “It will change how we think about our politics,” he said. “But I think that change is long overdue.”
Wanless also said that Amendment V is not the first instance of non-partisanship in South Dakota. When students ask her what the amendment could look like in action, she points them to the judicial races.
“We see a lot of nonpartisan judicial elections,” Wanless said. “I always send people to the judicial race to see the ramifications of Amendment V in South Dakota.”
Weiland points to an out-of-state source for nonpartisan election examples, citing Nebraska and California as success stories.
Wanless argues that Nebraska is not a good example for South Dakota politics because Nebraska legislature is a one house system, while the South Dakota system has two.
As far as the national race goes, Budmayr believes that the high partisanship in the election does not affect South Dakota politics.
“This probably would’ve come about regardless of what’s happening on the national level,” Budmayr said. However, he also said “The hope that this will create a more moderate candidate is so untested that it is fundamentally flawed.”
Weiland argues that you cannot force people to research candidates either way, and allowing people to simply vote along party lines creates extreme partisanship. He concluded his thoughts on the proposed amendment saying:
“I believe our current system here, and in Washington, needs help.”
Wanless suggested a process to apply to the Amendment V decision and the presidential race.
“I think it’s important to look to both sides and really understand their arguments,” she said. “Then decide what’s really important to you.”