Ballot groups are submitting petitions for open primaries and recreational marijuana

A Sioux Falls resident votes in the city and school board election at Southern Hills United Methodist Church on April 9, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)
A Sioux Falls resident votes in the city and school board election at Southern Hills United Methodist Church on April 9, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

A Sioux Falls resident votes in the city and school board election at Southern Hills United Methodist Church on April 9, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

South Dakota voters might decide in November if future primary elections should be open to all voters and whether recreational marijuana use should be legalized for adults.

Backers of each ballot measure said they’re turning in petitions this week, bringing the number of measures on the ballot or pending for addition to the ballot to six, with potential remaining for more. The deadline to submit petitions for a new law or law change is Tuesday. The deadline to refer a law passed by the Legislature to the ballot is June 25.

The Secretary of State’s Office must now verify that the open primary and recreational marijuana petitions have enough signatures from registered voters. 

Joe Kirby, chairman of the South Dakota Open Primaries ballot question committee, drove the group’s petitions to the Capitol in Pierre on Monday.

“It’s basic democracy,” Kirby said of the measure.

He said the group is submitting about 46,000 signatures to the secretary of state, surpassing the 35,017 signatures required for a proposed constitutional amendment. 

A primary is a preliminary election used by political parties to select candidates for the general election. 

Democrats allow everyone, including the state’s approximately 150,000 independents and non-politically affiliated voters, to participate in their primaries, while Republicans limit theirs to party members. 

Under the open primaries proposal, all candidates for an individual office would run in the same primary, regardless of their party, and the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election.

Kirby, a Republican, said the current primary system rewards and encourages partisan politics. He said when politicians are held accountable to more voters in their district, they are likely to listen to their district over party leadership. 

He said an open primary system would result in more moderate, South Dakota-focused candidates gaining traction.

“The only real opponents are the party bosses on the left and right,” Kirby said.

Republican critics, however, argue that the system would dilute party ideologies and allow non-party members too much influence over the selection of candidates.

“We are 110% opposed to the idea,” South Dakota Republican Party Chair John Wiik told South Dakota Searchlight last year. “It is our job in the Republican Party to put out the best candidates and decide who’s going to represent us on the general election ballot.”

The initiative to legalize adult recreational marijuana use in the state has more than enough signatures and will be submitted around noon Tuesday, according to Matthew Schweich, who is leading the effort. He said the group has yet to count its signatures, but it has a “good, healthy buffer,” beyond the 17,508 needed for proposed laws not amending the state constitution. 

Advocates believe the measure would create a new source of tax revenue and provide regulatory clarity for cannabis use. South Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana in 2020. A portion of that same ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana was challenged in court and invalidated.

More submitted petitions and ballot measures

Among other citizen-led measures for which petitions have already been submitted, one proposal aims to reinstate abortion rights in the state constitution.

Another would repeal the state sales tax on anything sold for human consumption, except alcoholic beverages and prepared food. The measure, which targets grocery taxes, would not prohibit cities from taxing groceries. Currently, the state has a 4.2% sales and use tax, and cities can tack on an additional 2% tax.

Verification of the signatures on those measures is pending.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has placed two constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter consideration. The first would modernize state constitutional language by replacing references to male officeholders with gender-neutral terms. The second seeks to lift a ban on work requirements for Medicaid expansion enrollees, potentially altering access to the joint federal-state health care program.

Other possible ballot measures

Voters could also be asked to reject a new state law passed by the Legislature that would regulate aspects of carbon dioxide pipelines. The deadline for turning in signatures to refer a legislative measure to the ballot is June 25.

Supporters of the legislation, passed last winter, said it implements new protections for landowners while providing a path forward for a controversial carbon dioxide pipeline project. Opponents view it as a capitulation to the pipeline company that takes some power from counties and gives it to the state.

Jim Eschenbaum is managing the petition effort. He said the group has not counted its signatures but is confident it will collect the 17,508 it needs. 

Other petitions that may be circulating in search of signatures, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, include efforts to revise legislative term limits, to prevent the Legislature from amending or repealing successful ballot measures for seven years, and to repeal the state’s medical marijuana program.

Ballot question list

Measures placed on the Nov. 5 ballot by the Legislature:

  • An amendment to the state constitution updating references to certain officeholders and people (replacing male-specific pronouns with neutral language).

  • An amendment to the state constitution authorizing the state to impose work requirements on certain people who are eligible for expanded Medicaid.

Measures submitted or soon to be submitted for inclusion on the Nov. 5 ballot, which are pending verification of the required number of petition signatures:

  • An initiated measure prohibiting state sales taxes on items sold for human consumption, specifically targeting state sales taxes on groceries.

  • An initiated amendment to the state constitution re-establishing abortion rights.

  • An initiated amendment to the state constitution establishing open primary elections.

  • An initiated measure legalizing adult recreational use, possession and distribution of marijuana.



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