Senate narrowly passes bill to alter election process in South Dakota

The South Dakota State Capitol Building in Pierre.
The South Dakota State Capitol Building in Pierre.(Austin Goss DNN/KOTA)
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 7:47 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - By a vote of 18 to 16, the South Dakota State Senate narrowly passed a bill that would drastically change the way statewide elected officials are elected.

SB 40 has been one of the most hotly contested bills this session, particularly amongst Republican Party faithful.

Sen. David Johnson (R-Rapid City) is the bill’s prime sponsor.

“This has nothing to do with a convention that we have had recently, and everything to do with the grassroots,” Johnson said during his opening remarks.

The proposal comes in the shadow of a hotly contested Republican convention last year, where a number of outsider candidates either won, or got very close to doing so.

“If this bill passes, we would have effectively abandoned a nomination process that has been a bedrock of our representative democracy that we have here in South Dakota,” said Sen. Tom Pischke (R-Dell Rapids).

Proponents of the concept argue that it would make South Dakota elections more open.

But opponents, like the South Dakota Republican Central Committee, oppose it. They believe that gutting the convention process would reactionary, and hurt rural areas. Pushing candidates to focus on the state’s two population centers.

“If we pass SB 40, and it becomes law... Why would a State Treasurer candidate go to the Fall River county Lincoln Day dinner?” asked Sen. Jim Mehlhaff (R-Pierre).

“South Dakotans, citizens, the grassroots, want to vote for their own leadership,” said Johnson. “SB 40 allows that to finally happen.”

Despite passage in the Senate, the bill still faces an arguably tougher crowd when it gets to the House.