Sen. Stan Adelstein’s second bill trying to reform the secretary of state’s office, after banning some political activity there, is to make the office officially nonpartisan. (All this is instead of Adelstein’s first, now-abandoned, idea for going after Secretary of State Jason Gant, who he really does not like, by impeaching him.)
How would that work?
In Adelstein’s draft proposal, candidates would gather signatures to run for secretary of state in the primary election, as usual, except without reference to political parties. In the June primary every year, voters would cast a ballot for whichever candidate they most preferred.
The top two vote-getters in the primary, whatever their political leanings, would advance to the general election.
This is what’s known as a “jungle primary,” which doesn’t have to be nonpartisan. (California recently instituted them, which led to a high-profile race last year of two veteran Democratic congressman facing off against each other in the general election.) Under Adelstein’s system, the nominees for secretary of state could end up being a Democrat and a Republican, like normally happens. Or they could be a conservative Republican and a moderate Republican. Or two moderate Republicans. Or two moderate Democrats. (When you get a lot of candidates running, splintering the ballot, all sorts of crazy things can happen.)
I am generally a fan of jungle primaries, because they’re fun and interesting. Is that the best solution for South Dakota’s secretary of state position? Hard to say.
(Another component of Adelstein’s bill would be to make it illegal for political parties to endorse or nominate and candidate for the office, which is interesting given Chief Justice David Gilbertson’s proposal to eliminate a similar rule for judicial elections.)
One thing that does seem clear: if South Dakota were to adopt this, we’d be a trailblazer. The National Association of Secretaries of State referred me to their member roster, which contains exactly zero secretaries of state who aren’t either a Democrat or Republican. (There are two exceptions in U.S. territories. American Samoa has an independent secretary of state, though one who — like some states — fills that role by virtue of being the lieutenant governor. Puerto Rico’s secretary of state is a member of that island’s Popular Democratic Party.)
That applies for elected and appointed secretaries of state, for those who are chief elections officer and those who are not, and for those who are just their state’s multitasking lieutenant governors.
Is this a trail South Dakota should blaze?
One final nitpick: Adelstein’s bill title refers to “nonpolitical elections” of secretaries of state. That’s not accurate; there would still be politics involved in this election. They just wouldn’t be, at least overtly, PARTISAN politics. A more accurate title would refer to “nonpartisan elections.”
Here’s Adelstein’s draft bill: