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More Independent Grief
Jul 23, 2014
In my last column, I explained how South Dakota petition law makes it harder for Independents to get on the ballot. This week, we see South Dakota won't give Independent candidates a fair shake even when they don't need to petition their way to the ballot.
Last winter, Independent gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers filed a document naming Vermillion lawyer Caitlin Collier as his running mate. State law requires that Independent gubernatorial candidates certify their running mates before circulating their own nominating petitions. Independent petitions are due the last Tuesday of April, so the practical Independent will name a lieutenant governor candidate by January. Partisan candidates face no such early requirement: their party committees don't need to certify their running mates until the second Tuesday of August.
A lot can happen between January and August. Collier has run into family issues (nothing nefarious, but none of our business) that prevent her from campaigning effectively. She filed a formal withdrawal of her candidacy on June 12, two weeks before the Democratic gubernatorial nominee even had a running mate. On July 8, Myers announced his replacement for Collier, former Sioux Falls legislator and GOP gubernatorial candidate Lora Hubbel.
Myers's choice is fascinating politically, given the swing from Democrat Collier to Tea Partier Hubbel. His choice is also illegal, according to Secretary of State Jason Gant, who refuses to recognize Hubbel's candidacy or Collier's withdrawal. In a July 18 letter to Hubbel, Secretary Gant says South Dakota law provides a mechanism only for partisan candidates to withdraw and be replaced on the ballot. Gant says the absence of statute ties his hands; Hubbel can become South Dakota's second in command only if Myers wins the election, appoints Hubbel, and wins a majority confirmation vote from both chambers of the Legislature.
Gant's decision smells of punishment, not public interest. No ballots have been printed yet, no votes cast. Recognizing Collier's withdrawal and Myers's good-faith effort to replace her overturns no vote or petition. Placing Hubbel's name on the ballot does not directly violate any state law; it simply would do what state law allows every partisan candidate to do this year until August 12.
Gant's decision actually takes away voters' rights with a false ballot. Those wishing to vote for Myers will have to vote for a woman who is not really running. Worse, attentive voters who know who's who and crave the chance to call Lora Lieutenant lose their right to vote: Gant's decision subjects their vote to approval of the Legislature, a discounting of voters' wishes that happens nowhere else on the ballot.
Secretary Gant can avoid this absurd situation. He can give the voters an accurate ballot without harming any constitutional rights or compelling state interest. He can solve this problem now by taking action that statute does not explicitly prohibit but which legislators haven't yet addressed. He can solve this problem long-term by telling 2015 Legislature to write new statutes that make clear that Independent gubernatorial candidates have the same freedom to choose and replace their running mates that partisan candidates have.
Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a conservative perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard on this site.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.