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House blocks independents from voting in all primaries

South Dakota's Capitol as pictured in this file photo. (Daily Republic file photo)

PIERRE — Rep. Drew Dennert felt the wrath of the South Dakota Republican Party's leadership Monday.

An email sent in the morning led to death in the afternoon.

The House of Representatives rejected his proposal to change how South Dakota primary elections run.

The measure failed on a vote of 29 yes and 37 no. A majority of 36 was needed in the 70-seat chamber.

Dennert, R-Aberdeen, wanted to allow a voter registered independent or no-party to participate in a party primary.

His system would have let the voter designate the primary or stay neutral.

Democrats and Libertarians let independent and no-party voters cast ballots in their primary elections. Republican and Constitution primaries are for members-only.

During the debate, Dennert said people of his generation are "passionate" about it. He is 22.

"This is something that has been on my mind for quite a while," Dennert said.

South Dakota's 35 legislative districts average about 3,400 independents and no-party voters apiece, he said.

Calling his proposal "a good policy that voters want to see," he said: "This is a fairness issue. Independent voters in the state should be allowed to participate."

Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, asked if independents could sign a party's nomination petitions. "This bill would not change that at all," Dennert said.

Rounds asked how often an independent or no-party voter could "flip" on choosing a primary. Dennert said the voter could change numerous times before an election. "This does not change that process at all," Dennert replied.

Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, asked how many other organizations allow voting by people who otherwise have nothing to do with the group.

"To me it diminishes the significance of a party primary," Haugaard said. He added, "I think it chips away at the established patterns we have right now."

Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, said the recent decision by Republican members of Congress to increase the federal deficit is one reason why voters are changing to independents.

Most independents in South Dakota are disaffected Republicans, Lust maintained.

"This recognizes the independence of those independents," he said. "And it's about accountability, too."

Rep. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, said Dennert's idea was "a good marketing effort."

"You gotta recognize the times are changing," Reed said.

Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls, spoke against it. "You're going to dilute the Republican Party and what it stands for," he said.

"We can't just sit on the fence," Rep. Lana Greenfield, R-Doland, said. "The decision making process is important."

Dennert used his rebuttal time to make a point: "In this case we're dealing with taxpayers in taxpayer-funded elections."

He agreed with Greenfield that young voters don't always know where they stand politically when they turn age 18.

"I want young people participating in the elections process," Dennert said.