On January 28, the South Dakota Senate State Affairs Committee amended SB 69 to make ballot access more difficult for independent candidates. Furthermore, the committee defeated an amendment that would have eased the deadline for a newly-qualifying party to submit its petitions, and approved the original part of the bill that moves the new party deadline from March to February. The votes on these amendments were all party-line, with all Republicans voting in favor of making ballot access more restrictive, and all Democrats voting in favor of easing ballot access. As amended, SB 69 says that no one can sign an independent candidate’s petition except voters who are registered “independent.” The bill also lowers the number of signatures needed for an independent, from 1% of the last gubernatorial vote, to 1% of the number of registered independents. The number of signatures for a statewide independent for 2016 would fall from 2,775 to 862. However, the net effect of the change would be to make ballot access worse for independents. Only 16% of South Dakota voters are registered “independent.” Going out on the street with a petition in which only 16% of the registered voters are eligible to sign would be difficult: effective petitioning depends on speed, and having to ask every person encountered if he or she is a registered independent would be perceived as nosy, and would be time-consuming. Also, not everyone knows whether or not he or she is registered “independent”. It’s especially likely that even well-informed voters wouldn’t know if they are “Nonpartisan” or “independent.”
The bill is flawed because it won’t let “Nonpartisan” voters sign for an independent candidate, nor could voters who are registered members of unqualified parties sign. “Nonpartisan” voters are those who didn’t fill out the part of the voter registration form that asks about affiliation; “independent” voters are those who checked the “independent” box. Currently South Dakota has 86,110 independent voters, 17,505 Nonpartisan voters, and 2,569 members of unqualified parties.
Another flaw is that the bill doesn’t specify how to calculate the number of registered voters, because the state puts out a voter registration tally every month, and the bill doesn’t specify which month’s tally should be used to determine 1% of the registered independents.