South Dakota Bill Limits Voter Choice & Ballot Access for Independents


March 23, 2015

The Centrist Project Calls on South Dakota Legislature, Governor to Revisit Law Restricting Voter Choice and Ballot Access for Independents

Legislation to improve ballot access for Independents does the opposite when an amendment removed two critical words from the bill


Washington, DC — The Centrist Project calls on the South Dakota Legislature and Governor Dennis M. Daugaar to revisit Senate Bill 69 which restricts ballot access for Independent candidates, thanks to little discussed amendments that overturn the legislation’s intent.

Senate Bill 69 (SB69) intended to “revise certain provisions regarding elections and election petitions” at the request of the State Board of Elections. Senator Ernie Otten (R-6th District) added Amendment 69ca which struck out two words – “may not” – and as a result, prohibited any party affiliated voter from signing a ballot access petition for an Independent candidate. In effect, this bill prevents any registered party voter from supporting independent candidates to gain access to the ballot and limits voter choice. Another amendment, 69fe, increases the difficulty for an Independent candidate to gather the requisite signatures to be included on the ballot. The amendments appear to be a clear response to prevent future Independent candidates from challenging party candidates.

“For voters, by virtue of your membership in a party, either active or lapsed, your electoral rights have been truncated,” said Centrist Project Founder Charles Wheelan, a senior lecturer and policy fellow at the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College and the bestselling author of Naked Economics and The Centrist Manifesto. "This bill forces voters to drop their party affiliation if they want to support an independent candidacy.  That's not a choice that any voter should be forced to make” Wheelan said.

The legislation is out of step with the choices American voters crave. Over 42% of the American electorate have declared themselves Independents or unaffiliated with the major parties. The growing bloc of Independent and centrist voters threaten the stranglehold the two parties have over our political system, and parties can fight back by rigging election rules and campaign finance laws in their favor.

In 2014, The Centrist Project supported Senator Larry Pressler in his bid to represent South Dakota in the U.S. Senate as an Independent. When Pressler’s polling numbers reached 32% of South Dakota voters, both major parties poured in millions of dollars to counteract his candidacy, ensuring an Independent didn’t win the seat. SB69’s amendments appear to be another effort to protect the major parties influence over who can get on the ballot and limit voter options for electing Independents,” Wheelan said.

SB69 includes another amendment, 69fe, to modify the number of signatures required for Independents, from 1% of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, to 1% of the number of voters registered with no party affiliation. At face value, this drops the number of required signatures.  In reality, it dramatically increases the number of man hours required to collect signatures because finding people “qualified” to sign will be much more difficult. Of the total number of registered voters in South Dakota, 110,000 are qualified to sign, around 20% of the voting population across the entire state. The change represents a large hurdle for an Independent candidate without the backing of the party machinery to help with collecting signatures.

"I am sure that this bill, if well known, would be unpopular with South Dakota voters, because it takes important rights away from voters and reduces voter choice - no voter would be in favor of that. This bill provides further evidence that both major parties are willing to do anything, including taking away important voting rights, in order to defend their position, and it will only add to voter disillusionment of the two major parties" said Pamela Peak, Executive Director of The Centrist Project.

The Centrist Project is designed to empower the neglected but growing political middle by channeling the support of centrist Americans from across the country to a handful of key U.S. Senate candidates.  With control of the Senate closely divided, the election of a few pragmatic, moderate Independents who band together as a coalition would have a disproportionate impact on the chamber.  Independents can support the strongest policies for America, without worrying about towing their party line. Together, they can break the partisan deadlock that grips Congress and will help move America forward, putting us on a path to fiscal responsibility, environmental responsibility, social tolerance, and good governance.

“The Centrist Project is about fighting back against the extremists in both parties,” said Wheelan.  “Instead of throwing up our hands at the dysfunction and partisanship, we’ve found a way for Americans who are fed up with the extreme right and the extreme left to do something constructive about it.”

For more information about The Centrist Project visit and join the effort.



The Centrist Project is a 501(c)4 membership organization focused on breaking the gridlock in Washington by changing political incentives and helping elect responsible leaders. Its Centrist Principles include fiscal responsibility, environmental stewardship, social tolerance, economic opportunity and a pragmatic approach to solving policy challenges. The Centrist Project Voice is a separate segregated fund (SSF) of The Centrist Project. It is the nation’s first PAC to promote centrist candidates regardless of their party affiliation.  Visit for updates on our progress to end gridlock in Washington and to join the effort.


Pamela Peak, Executive Director

312.848.9726 | | @CentProj

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