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     LabelA word or phrase that describes or defines something or someone. – Merriam Webster Dictionary

Little wonder that former congressional candidate Rick Weiland is pushing hard for the removal of party labels in important South Dakota elections.

The state is awash in red, the color used on political maps to paint GOP party affiliation.  A purplish hue flourishes in Sioux Falls and Aberdeen, where Democrats tend to do better. Blue might better describe the Democrat Party’s mood because, as pointed out in Smart Politics, an internet news site, “This is the bleakest outlook for the party since the 1950s.”

Weiland, a longtime Democratic activist, is the author of Amendment 5, one of 10 ballot questions voters will decide in November. If passed, the state constitution would be amended and all candidates for federal and state elective offices could not be identified by party affiliation on the primary or general election ballot. All qualified voters, irrespective of party affiliation, could vote for the candidate of their choice.

What’s behind this?

I’m going to go way, way out on a limb and speculate that many Democrats, including Weiland, are tired of Republican dominance and think this is a way to elect more liberal-minded politicians.

It isn’t that Democrats can’t win in South Dakota, it’s just that it doesn’t happen very often, particularly on the statehouse level. In Pierre, Republicans hold a 57-12 majority in the House and a 27-8 majority in the Senate. Weiland’s frustration is also evidenced by a dismal success rate in gubernatorial races. Only four Democrats have been elected in the state’s history and, given Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s 74 percent approval rating, tops in the land according to pollster Morning Consult, most voters like the GOP footprint.

But on the federal level, Democrats have done well. Sens. Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson were re-elected numerous times, as was George McGovern. Their success always prompted the question from outsiders: How can South Dakota send such liberal

candidates to the nation’s Capitol and mostly Republicans to Pierre?

That’s a topic for another day.

There is a downside to the amendment and it is this: Voters would know less, not more, about candidates. Party labels help define candidates, for better or worse. What is needed in politics is more information and more transparency, but Amendment 5 works against this.

Party affiliation actually helps voters because political parties have their own platforms and philosophies. In general, Republicans are more conservative than Democrats, which is why they do better among South Dakota voters.

Oct. 5, 2016