Wednesday, August 31, 2016

We Can Fix An Affront To The Democratic Process: My Column In Today's Rapid City Journal

There's an affront to the democratic process that South Dakotans can correct in November. By voting "no" on Referred Law 19, voters can veto permanently Senate Bill 69 that limits independent
Yours Truly
candidates circulating their petitions to signatures gathered only from voters who are registered as independents.
There are other restrictions in the law (linked in my blog), but this is the most obnoxious. It was signed into law last year by Gov. Daugaard after a transparently self-serving effort by straight party-line voting Republicans who control our Legislature to stifle the gathering power of South Dakota's registered Independents/Unaffiliateds, now numbering 112,000.
Within days of the governor's signature, I supported a petition-signing effort to get this law referred to the people. It didn't take long for us to succeed. Why do I find this law obnoxious? Because in Section 7 it "prohibits a person registered with a recognized political party from signing a petition nominating an independent candidate for office."
It denies me, a Republican, the opportunity to put an independent candidate on a ballot even though I just might be likely to vote for that candidate. That I'm a Republican by registration does not in any way mean that I vote exclusively for Pubs.
I voted for Larry Pressler, the independent U.S. Senate candidate, in 2014 and intend to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson for president in November. That this is symptomatic of a trend in which the GOP is rapidly moving in a direction I reject is one thing (and probably a matter for another column), but that it declares me independent of party coercion is another.
If I saw an attractive independent candidate coming down the pike before the next election, I'd want to make every effort at getting that person on the ballot, including signing a petition. Denying me the chance to do so is denying my ability to support a candidate just because I'm a Republican. I think that's an abrogation of my rights, and I think it stinks.
This autocratic and arbitrary limitation on the potential pool of petition signers for an independent candidate significantly reduces the chances of that candidate making the ballot. That isn't right. More to the point, similar restrictions haven't held up in the courts. Frequently cited (Wall Street Journal, CNN and other national media) ballot-access expert Richard Winger has examined SB 69 and questioned whether it will hold up in court if challenged.
Winger notes that a similar ban on party registrants signing independent candidate petitions in Arizona was invalidated by a federal district court in 1999 (Campbell vs Hull). Winger cites a similar New York decision by a three-judge federal court that found no state interest in stopping voters from signing an independent's petitions — a decision that was summarily upheld in 1970 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I'd be amazed if an expensive and unnecessary court challenge to the South Dakota law didn't materialize if voters let this thing survive. Educated voters, regardless of party affiliation, should be able to detect the inherent unfairness of this measure and resoundingly reject it by voting "no" on Referred Law 19 in November.
John Tsitrian is a Rapid City businessman and freelance writer. You can read more of his commentary on his


  1. While this is important in the two cases you cite, John, Pressler and Johnson, it is even more important in a state or local election, especially in a state where one of the two major parties is as weak as it is in South Dakota.

  2. Totally agree with you. I'm not surprised that this passed lickety-split, because the super-majority in Pierre is determined to keep their super-majority at all costs. But we can defeat it at the ballot box!

  3. The absolute essence of our democracy is the ability to vote for any candidate we want.

    This is as much an inalienable right as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Limiting our ability sign candidate petitions due to membership in a political party is an affront to that we hold most dear -- our rights as individuals to differences of opinion.

    That any government could so easily pass such a short sighted law speaks volumes about what is wrong with politics today.

    Those who oppose it speak volumes about what is right.