We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Secretary Nelson Says Law Demanded Arndt Switch: Which Law?

Secretary of State Chris Nelson weighs in on the GOP's gamesmanship on Ben Arndt's political affiliation:

Secretary of State Chris Nelson said Democrats were told Heidepriem's running mate would have to register as a Democrat.

"There's a state law that says if you're going to be nominated as a candidate of the party, you have to be a member of that party," Nelson said Saturday in Huron, where he was attending the Republican State Convention. "It's been on the books forever" [Wayne Ortman, "Lieutenant Governor Candidate Switches to Dems," Rapid City Journal, 2010.06.26]

Now I'll admit, I thought there might be such a rule. Requiring Democratic nominees to be Democrats sounds like common sense. We require it of our Party officials.

But whatever books Secretary Nelson says he's reading, I can't find them or this alleged rule anywhere online. I know the question is moot with Arndt's switch to the right party, but the question remains intriguing... especially given that either I or Secretary Nelson is quite clearly and publicly wrong. Here's a breakdown of the relevant Party rules and statutes I can find:

Secretary Nelson is likely referring to this statute, SDCL 12-6-3.2:

No person may sign a declaration of candidacy or be nominated as a political candidate for a party unless that person is a registered voter with that party affiliation.

If this is the statute Secretary Nelson is citing, it appears to have been on the books since 1998, somewhat short of "forever." But notice that dot before the 2? This statute appears in Chapter 12-6 on Primary Elections. There's room for arugment here, but if I were lawyering up, I'd place my bets that a rule written in a chapter on primary elections applies strictly to primary elections.

No other statute or party rule appears to support the argument that a party nominee for a constitutional, non-primary office must be a registered member of the party. To wit:

South Dakota Codified Law 12-5-21:

Nomination of state candidates not voted on at primary--Presidential electors and national committee members. The state convention shall nominate candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, commissioner of school and public lands, and public utilities commissioner and in the years when a President of the United States is to be elected, presidential electors and national committeeman and national committeewoman of the party.

No mention of party affiliation. And note this is a separate SDCL chapter on Political Parties and Party Affairs.

South Dakota Democratic Party Constitution, Article I, Sections 1 and 2:

SECTION 1: Any person 18 years of age, who is a registered Democrat in South Dakota may participate fully in any public Party meetings and be elected to any Party office, except where specifically prohibited by law.

SECTION 2: All meetings at all levels of the Democratic Party are open to all members of the Democratic Party of South Dakota.

...elected to Party office... That means positions like precinct commitee member, county chair or treasurer (like me!), or state chair. Lieutenant governor is a Constitutional office, not a Party office.

SDDP Const, XIII.10:

In addition to the members listed previously in this Article, all Democrats who are currently serving as an elected State-wide Constitutional officer, an elected member of the Public Utilities Commission, the floor leader of the Senate and House, or as a member of the U. S. Congress shall have voting privileges on the Executive Board.

Close, but no banana: this rule says a lieutenant governor has to be a Democrat to participate as a voting member alongside the Party officers of the Executive Board. But it does not stop us from nominating a non-Democrat to the lieutenant governor's position; we can nominate and elect such a candidate, but when he shows up at an Executive Board meeting, we simply say, "Sorry, pal; no vote for you."

SDDP Const, IX.18-19:

SECTION 18: The State Convention shall nominate candidates for Lieutenant Governor, and other constitutional offices as proposed by the pre-convention caucus.. In the years when a President of the United States is to be elected, the Convention shall nominate Presidential Electors and National Committeewoman and Committeeman of the Party.

SECTION 19: Nominations shall be made by majority vote of the votes cast, and shall be certified to the Secretary of State by the officials of the Convention, immediately at the close of the Convention.

These sections say nothing about party affiliation of the nominees. Convention officials certify the vote and send it to the Secretary of State.

Dear readers, I welcome further reading and interpretation of state election law and party rules. Knock yourselves out... after you've finished picking up branches and mowing the yard.


  1. Cory,

    It's certainly possible that SDCL 12-6-3.2 is the law of interest. 12-6-1 says "Offices to which chapter applies. The provisions of this chapter shall apply to the election to party office and for the nominations of political and nonpolitical candidates for public offices except as may be otherwise provided." That doesn't appear to limit the scope of that law to just primary elections, regardless of the title of the chapter in SDCL (I'm not sure that the chapter title is legally binding).

    Also, SDCL 12-6-64 might be interesting to you. I'm not sure that it's relevant to this argument, but you should take a look.

    Any accomplished legal scholars out there should feel free to correct me--I'm basing this on my cursory overview of the laws.

  2. Also, SDCL 12-6-2 is the law prohibiting third-term candidates for governor. If this chapter applied only to primary elections, it would seem to me that a gubernatorial candidate could skip the term limit by getting nominated after the primary.

  3. Interesting cites, Mike!

    12-6-64: I wonder if that could be construed to say the GOP couldn't have waged a decertification fight on the basis of the "technicality" of Arndt's political affiliation

    12-6-2: ah, but this one explicitly refers to "the provisions of this chapter." An established party candidate cannot be nominated for governor by any mechanism other than the primary rules specified under this chapter, so the term limit is effective. However, you make me wonder now if Mike Rounds or another two-term governor could run for a third successive term under the provisions of another chapter, say as an independent (Chapter 12-7). Hmmm....


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.