PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — An attempt to hold the presidential primary in March separate from South Dakota’s standard June primary election has been rejected.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 9-0 Friday to kill a proposal from Representative Drew Dennert, R-Aberdeen, who wanted to move the presidential-nominating contests to Super Tuesday for 2024.
Dennert was the only witness to testify for HB 1116, which the House had passed 41-26. His lack of a Senate sponsor might have been a signal of the reception that awaited.
Then there was the row of county auditors who came from across South Dakota to speak against it. They run South Dakota’s elections.
First up was Kathy Glines from Harding County in the northwest, followed by Jackie Sieverding of Union County from the southeast, and then a half-dozen more from Sully, Beadle, Stanley, Lawrence, McPherson and Brown counties.
Glines recalled that South Dakota had already tried a February presidential primary in 1988, 1992 and 1996. The Legislature repealed it in 1997.
“Basically the argument for the repeal was based on a lack of voter turnout, and the dreams of candidates flocking to South Dakota and stimulating the economy as promised didn’t happen,” Glines told the senators.
She continued, “You guys need to understand, any time you change an election or add an election, there is a ton of logistics that go with it. You can’t just throw it out there and say let’s do it. There’s a lot of things that go along hand in hand with that.”
Glines said South Dakota saw a continual decrease in voter turnout for the years when the presidential primaries were in February. “The novelty wore off as we progressed — and it not only wore off for the voters, it wore off for the candidates. In 1992 we only had one Republican presidential candidate on the ballot.”
Sieverding said Union County had a 23% turnout for the 1988 presidential primary, fell to 17% for 1992 and dropped to 11% in 1996.
Dennert said times have changed. As to the lack of candidates, he said George H.W. Bush was U.S. vice president in 1988 when he ran for president and, as the incumbent president in 1992 was the only Republican in the race.
Dennert said he’s had “some conversations” with members of the board for the South Dakota Republican Party. He said the bill came from a member of the Republican Party.
Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, spoke against the change. Schoenbeck recalled trying, without success, to repeal the early-primary in 1995 and 1996. He said the late Jerry Apa, R-Lead, became his friend when Apa the next year got the presidential contest moved back to June.
“Jerry got this thing killed finally because it cost so much money, turnout was so bad, the counties hated it, the state finally promised to reimburse them and then they either wouldn’t or they were late. It was a disaster, so I can’t quite imagine why we would go back to having a no-turnout, high-cost, stress on the election worker situation,” Schoenbeck said.