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Opponents clash over Amendment V

Opposing sides of Constitutional Amendment V continue to spar over an initiative's out-of-state funding as the Nov. 8 election approaches. Amendment V would remove a candidate's political party affiliation from the ballot and eliminate voter rest...

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Opposing sides of Constitutional Amendment V continue to spar over an initiative’s out-of-state funding as the Nov. 8 election approaches.

Amendment V would remove a candidate’s political party affiliation from the ballot and eliminate voter restrictions on ballot access during the June primaries. Currently, only registered Republicans can vote in the South Dakota Republican primary, and registered Democrats and Independents can vote in the Democratic primary. If approved, one primary would be held in the state, and the top vote-getters would move on to the November ballot, regardless of their party affiliation.

And Amendment V received two major endorsements Tuesday.

“Yesterday the League of Women Voters of South Dakota and AARP South Dakota endorsed Amendment V for Nonpartisan Elections because it gives every voter a voice, including 115,000 Independents,” Rick Knobe, an Independent voter and Chairman of the Vote Yes on V campaign, said Wednesday. “We must have really scared the politics-as-usual crowd, because they came out with a typical shrill partisan attack.”

Despite what supporters tout as advantages of the proposal, opponents continue to criticize the out-of-state funding flowing through the Vote Yes On V committee. According to the group’s last two disclosure statements, 75.76 percent of its funding has come from out-of-state sources.

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Those statements show $259,953.05 of its $343,113.62 in support came from outside of South Dakota, which concerns Amendment V opponent Will Mortenson.

“I think South Dakotans should be governing South Dakota,” said Mortenson, chairman of Vote No On V.

Mortenson was particularly critical of New York-based Open Primaries, which gave the ballot question committee $246,784.35, according to the last two disclosure statements.

“This isn’t like there were a bunch of South Dakotans in Highmore, in Herreid and Mobridge who said, ‘You know, we should change this,’ ” Mortenson said.

Mortenson called the measure “anti-transparency at its core,” and said the removal of party affiliation could confuse voters. But former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, who has championed Amendment V, sees it differently.

Weiland welcomed the out-of-state support, and sees South Dakota as a potential leader in political reform that can set an example for other states looking to transition away from the status quo.

“I really do think that this is really an opportunity to lead, for South Dakota to lead the country,” Weiland said.

And, according to Weiland, a nonpartisan approach to voting already exists in South Dakota’s local elections.

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“This kind of reform is absolutely critical, and here’s why it’s not so scary and why the sky isn’t falling: it’s that we have nonpartisan elections when we elect mayors, and city council members and school board members,” Weiland said.

But, the measure couldn’t earn the support of one of the state’s most prominent political figures.

“These big money groups from out-of-state have their own motivations and see our state as an easy target to push their agenda,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard said. “South Dakota works very well when it governs itself. I oppose Amendment V on the merits and oppose being the test state for outside interests.”

Neither of the state’s political parties, which would see their organizations wiped from the ballot if Amendment V were to pass, offered support of the initiative.

South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Suzanne Jones Pranger said her party will remain neutral on Amendment V as some state Democrats have come out both for and against the proposal.

“We share the goal of increasing voter participation in elections - that's one of the reasons why, unlike Republicans, we opened our primaries to Independent voters years ago,” Pranger said.

Unlike its counterpart, the South Dakota GOP has taken a stance on the proposal.

Ryan Budmayr, executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, said his party opposes the proposal, citing the “big money out of New York” that is supporting the effort. And while supporters say Amendment V would favor individual voters rather than political parties, Budmayr has a different view of the proposal.

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“This is the farthest thing from nonpartisan,” Budmayr said. “The guys running this are former Democrats, party bosses, staffers, and I don’t think South Dakota should be fooled.”

But Weiland sees Amendment V as a chance for the state to lead the country in returning to a democracy for the people, not for the political parties.

“And I firmly believe that our office holders should be more accountable to the voters than they are to the political parties,” Weiland said. “We need to get back to the day where these elections are a contest of ideas and not just a bogus debate about political party propaganda.”

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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