What could be realized

By Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 5/18/24

In this From the Mound, the writer examines the proposed open primary amendment

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What could be realized


“It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning ‘round”
“Do You Realize??” — The Flaming Lips

I love when a song falls into my lap that matches the topic that I already intended to write about! I was listening to the “Song Exploder” podcast, a great podcast hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, where musicians take apart their songs instrument by instrument and tell the story of the creation of the song.

The most recent podcast had The Flaming Lips on to talk about their tune, “Do You Realize??” which was the first single from the band’s 2002 release Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

While it’s written with some of the underpinning of Flaming Lips style, with interesting instrumental choices, a vocal harmony track that’s all one member of the band singing all of the harmony by using technology to slow down or speed up his voice to alter the pitch, and a blend of percussion that was live and also dubbed from previous songs by the group as well, it’s not a typical Flaming Lips psychedelic rock song.

While the tune has received tremendous critical acclaim (ranked No. 31 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Songs of the 2000s) and is one of the group’s most popular songs to perform live, it didn’t reach major heights on charts, never appearing on United States Billboard charts and peaking at No. 32 in the U.K. The record was certified as gold in the U.S., despite the lack of radio airplay, interestingly.

Lead singer Wayne Coyne of the group penned the lyrics referencing the struggles another band member was having attempting to overcome addiction withdrawal. He had recently lost his father as well, and from that perspective of reflection and pain, he commented on the beauty of the world but also the fleeting moment that we occupy in all of time, both past and future.

While that could be quite heady contemplation, one way that we attempt to overstay our momentary impact on the universe is to do things “the way they’ve always been done.”

Often that comment comes up around change, even though the one thing that is constant about the world is change.

Resistance to change and a desire to do things the way they’ve always been done are two driving factors in the opposition that has been verbalized thus far about the upcoming proposed amendment to the South Dakota Constitution that will likely appear on the November ballot (pending validation of the required number of petition signatures, which could happen any day).

The amendment would change the party-based primary election system currently in the state to an open primary system.

What exactly does that mean?

Currently, those running for Governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state legislature, and many county offices go through a party-based primary. The next primary election for South Dakota is June 4, and voters registered as Republican in the Huron area could have up to two items to vote on, while those registered as Democrat or Independent would have only one - the Democratic Presidential primary, where President Joe Biden has already won the votes needed to hold the national candidacy for the Democratic party, rendering the South Dakota primary fairly innocuous on the scope of that race.

However, the Republican primary will determine how the area is represented at both the county and state level…but a majority of voters cannot participate.

The county race is limited to those who are members of District 2 of Beadle County due to the way the county’s commission is set up for representation. The intention behind setting things up this way was to ensure that the whole of Beadle County wasn’t represented by five people who all live in the city of Huron, which is the population center of the county but certainly doesn’t speak for the issues of a farmer in Broadland or someone living on an acreage near Cavour.

The intent is certainly not in question, though it does mean that the election of those officials is limited to that particular district having a vote, and when each seat on the commission is 20% of the representation for the county, that’s a pretty impactful spot in decisions being made with your tax dollars!

The county commission race is not the biggest concern, however.

In District 22, recent redistricting has changed the balance of the district to where it is actually majority Republican (previous districting had no party with more than 50% of the registered voters in District 22).

Registered Republicans constitute 7,558 of the 14,411 registered voters in District 22, or 52% of the registered voters, according to statistics from the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office. While it’s not surprising that a Republican could win the race to represent District 22 in Pierre, that person also has 48% of the registered voters who are not a member of the party…and in this year’s election, those voters don’t even get a choice in who represents them.

Sure, some will say that the “easy” thing is simply to change your registration at the county auditor’s office in order to vote in the primary and then change it back after the election. The good question to ask is why?

Are we so distrusting of someone who is not of the same party that we don’t believe that they would vote for the best candidate and would instead attempt to vote for a lesser candidate from our party? Really?

Back to the proposed amendment, it is not saying that all people would be able to vote in each other’s party-focused primaries - or even that Independents would have access to both primaries. Those proposals have been put forth and not fared well…and when put in place in other states, they’ve not been executed well either.

The proposed amendment, instead, focuses on a statewide primary, not party-based, where the two candidates, regardless of party, receiving the most votes would advance to the general election in November.

To use District 22 as an example, there are currently two open S.D. House seats and three Republican candidates.

The proposed amendment states that two candidates for each open seat would advance to the general election, so Lana Greenfield, Terry Nebelsick, and Keven Van Diepen would all qualify for the November election rather than having the seats decided after the primary.

This proposed amendment would also clean up the multiple sets of rules that currently exist in South Dakota for those in major parties, those in minor parties, and those who are unaffiliated with a party (Independent) and are running for office.

Currently, different dates exist for filing, depending on whether the candidate is a member of a party or unaffiliated. There are also different rules for minor parties in choosing their candidate, which means that if each party registered with the state produced a candidate for each of the open seats in District 22 along with one Independent candidate for each seat, we would have a November ballot with 10 candidates for District 22 in the current system after primaries! What a mess!

Cleaning up the process and ensuring all candidates are chosen by their represented district rather than simply members of their chosen party, holding all candidates to the same registration rules for appearing on the ballot, and then choosing the best two candidates in June to allow those two candidates to campaign throughout the summer (and save paper on ballots) would be an improvement on many levels across the state.

Oh, and the concern with low voter turnout in primary elections?

While all candidates on the current June 4 ballot for Beadle County would move forward to the general election, that is not true in many counties, and the turnout will almost certainly be higher each year as voters decide who should appear on the ballot in November.

This exact thing has been done in multiple states already, with voters often eliminating polarizing candidates at the primary level, leading to candidates more willing to work across the aisle being elected.

The most recent election of a House Representative from Alaska, which has a similar open primary system, removed Sarah Palin from the November ballot in primary voting, and voters chose among a pair of candidates, eventually electing Democrat Mary Sattler Peltola, a former tribal judge and one of the few Native Americans in Congress. She may be a Democrat, but already Mary has established herself as someone who has received positive grades from Second Amendment groups and Pro-Life groups with her voting, indicating that her voting is not purely based on a party platform.

Simplifying the vote in November, ensuring all those represented get a choice in their representation, and choosing representatives who vote based on personal conscience rather than a party platform…isn’t that what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they first threw tea over the side of a ship in protest of a lack of representation?

Our sliver of time in the universe may not be large, but supporting changes that move our society and world forward (rather than leaning on “the way it’s always been done”) is a change that we should be able to get behind.