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The effort to open up South Dakota's primary elections

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Several states are holding primary elections today. In South Dakota, those primaries, at least for the GOP, are closed, meaning only registered Republicans can vote for Republicans, leaving the other half of registered voters with little to weigh in on. As South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Lee Strubinger reports, some hope to change that.

LEE STRUBINGER, BYLINE: Tony Rhodes votes every time he gets a chance. His chance this year was voting early yesterday morning.

TONY RHODES: Retired military, was born in the military, raised in the military, was in Junior ROTC - my family has bled for this country.

STRUBINGER: Rhodes identifies as a conservative and says he makes sure everyone in his social sphere casts a ballot.

RHODES: I want to make sure that everybody does what they should do - get out and vote and be serious about who you're voting for.

STRUBINGER: With the presidential race basically locked up, there's still a lot for registered Republicans like Rhodes to vote on - state legislative races. This year, Republicans have 44 primary contests. Democrats have just one. That's due in part to the fact that to appear on the primary ballot in South Dakota, candidates must have a challenger.

RHODES: I believe in the Constitution. I believe in the Bible. And I definitely believe in South Dakota's motto - under God, the people rule.

STRUBINGER: However, the lack of other primaries has some voters making their voices heard in a different way. Natalie Slack is a registered Republican but doesn't identify with the party.

NATALIE SLACK: It's important to be registered as a Republican to have some sort of vote, some sort of say in kind of maintaining some decorum around politics.

STRUBINGER: Slack says she wants to see more moderate candidates on the November ballot. Some hope that an effort to open up the state's primary elections could help with that. That would mean every registered voter could weigh in on all candidates...

NICOLE HEENAN: ...Regardless of your party affiliation.

STRUBINGER: Nicole Heenan is with the group South Dakota Open Primaries, which collected signatures over the past year to add a constitutional amendment to the November ballot. If voters approve the amendment, the state would join at least a dozen others that allow all registered voters to vote for any candidate regardless of party. Candidates can still run with party affiliation, but Heenan says the hope is nominating more candidates who are less polarized.

HEENAN: When you get more opportunities from the get-go, you're getting more moderate candidates to move forward.

STRUBINGER: Officials with the state Republican Party are opposed to the idea, saying it's the job of the Republican Party to decide who makes the November ballot.

For NPR News, I'm Lee Strubinger in Rapid City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARISA ANDERSON'S "HESITATION THEME AND VARIATION BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.