'TOp Two' Primary Election Measure Makes South Dakota's November Ballot

Voters in Republican-majority South Dakota will decide this fall whether to abandon partisan primaries and make contests open to all candidates regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote-getters in each race would then face off in general elections.

Secretary of State Monae Johnson's office said Tuesday that it has certified the proposed constitutional amendment for the November ballot. The South Dakota Open Primaries group submitted the necessary petition signatures earlier this month.

Other initiatives that will appear on the ballot include measures to protect abortion rights and to repeal the state grocery tax. A measure awaiting validation would legalize recreational marijuana.

The state's candidates in gubernatorial, congressional, legislative and county races currently compete in partisan primaries. If voters approve it, the amendment would have them compete in a unified primary instead.

“Today, almost 150,000 South Dakotans who are independent or unaffiliated voters have almost no say and are shut out of taxpayer-funded primary elections. It’s just flat wrong,” sponsor Joe Kirby said in a statement on Tuesday.

“That’s why we’re so excited to be bringing forward this simple reform to make sure all registered voters have a voice in who leads our state. We need to let all voters vote," Kirby said.

Other states such as California, Louisiana and Washington already have their own versions of open primaries. A similar South Dakota measure failed in 2016.

South Dakota's GOP chairman, state Sen. John Wiik, has been opposed, saying he sees “no good coming out of it for the Republican Party.”

Democratic Party Executive Director Dan Ahlers has said the party hasn’t taken a position, but already allows “no party affiliation” and independent voters to participate in its primary, along with registered Democrats.

South Dakota's registered voters include 304,000 Republicans, 144,000 Democrats and nearly 150,000 others who identify as “no party affiliation” or independent, according to online voter registration tracking.

Republicans control South Dakota’s Legislature and hold all statewide elected offices and congressional seats. Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 2008, when voters reelected Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to their last terms in Congress.