SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Early voting begins Friday for South Dakota’s June Primary.

While this ballot is usually about deciding which candidate will win each party’s nomination for the November General election, this year, the primary ballot also includes a vote that could change South Dakota’s constitution.

Amendment C would require 60 percent of voters to approve a ballot measure that involves changing taxes or spending more than 10 million dollars. 

It’s a major change for the state’s ballot initiative process that’s been in place for more than a century and some are questioning why its being decided during a primary election.

Bridget: “Have we seen constitutional amendments on a primary ballot before?”

Secretary of State Steve Barnett: “Not to my knowledge.”

Typically ballot measures and constitutional amendments are decided during a general election in November when voter turnout is higher.

“I would guess for a primary turnout anywhere from 19 to 35 percent would be about the ball park on that; a general election you’ll see anywhere from 55 percent to 72 percent on a presidential election year,” Barnett said.

Primary elections in South Dakota generally see less than half the voter turnout as ballots cast in November, with different ballots for Republicans, Democrats and Independents in the June election.

“An independent person, they’d be able to vote on that Amendment C, but independents don’t have a primary,” Barnett said.

More than 24 percent of South Dakota’s voters are registered as independent or no party affiliation; they have the option to vote on the Democratic ballot, but anyone choosing to cast an Independent ballot this June will only have one issue to vote on.

And this year, the same is true for the more than 26 percent of South Dakota voters registered as democrats.

“That Amendment C, the three-fifths issue. That’d be about it. There’s really no primaries at the statewide level. In some legislative races, there will be some primaries. But not the statewide level,” Barnett said.

“On the Republican side, we’ve got all kinds of primaries. There’s a lot of reasons to come and vote,” South Dakota Senator Lee Schoenbeck said. “It’s not my fault that the democrats didn’t run candidates.  Alright, they could have and should have.”

Senator Schoenbeck is a prime sponsor of constitutional Amendment C and the reason it’s now on the primary ballot.

“The default is it ends up on the general election ballot and we wanted to move it up to the primary election ballot,” Schoenbeck said. “I’m the one that made the motion on the Senate floor to suspend the rules and move it there. It’s because I want to have it in place as soon as is possible. There are proposals on the fall ballot that are going to spend a lot of money.  I think that those ought to have to live with this standard, if the voters agree.”

Schoenbeck says Amendment C is in response to an effort to expand Medicaid on the November ballot and calls this amendment protection for taxpayers, saying voters should be held closer to the legislative standard for anything involving taxes and spending.

“In the legislature we have to have 2/3rds if we’re going to do either of those,” Schoenbeck said.

“This new amendment C that was strategically placed on the primary ballot would effectively end majority rule, that 50 plus one threshold that we’re all very familiar with. It would very much allow 41 percent of people to really hijack that process and stop any progression that the voters of South Dakota wish to enact,” Zach Nistler with South Dakotans for Fair Elections said.

South Dakotans for Fair Elections is a non partisan group campaigning against Amendment C and encouraging more voters to head to the polls to help their voice be heard on this important issue on the 2022 primary ballot.

“I think there are folks who put this on the ballot who did so specifically because they thought you weren’t going to be voting. We need you all to show them differently,” Nistler said.

Early Voting begins tomorrow across South Dakota. The primary election will be held on June 7th. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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