South Dakota Richard's Primary Law (1916)

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The South Dakota Richard's Primary Law Initiative was on the November 7, 1916 ballot in South Dakota as an indirect initiated state statute, where it was defeated. The measure would have reinstated the 1912 Richard's Primary Law which had been removed by legislative tampering in 1915.[1]

Election results

South Dakota Richard's Primary Law Initiative (1916)
Defeatedd No52,73350.15%
Yes 52,410 49.85%

Election results via: South Dakota Political Almanac, Table 7. Results of Elections Concerning State Constitutional Amendments and Initiated and Referred Laws, 1889-1968

Text of measure

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Background & aftermath

The Richards Primary Law was named after its primary creator and sponsor, R. O. Richards of Huron, South Dakota. Richards was a candidate for United States Senate and served as the Republican state chairman. The work to replace the caucus system with a direct primary began strongly in 1903. In 1904, a petition to place the matter on the ballot as an initiated state statute was submitted with almost twice the number of required signatures, but was denied placement on the ballot by the legislature. Instead, the legislature passed the Honest Caucus Law, which retained the convention system with some new restrictions. This legislative move is credited as part of the reason for the election of Governor Coe Isaac Crawford (R) and a "progressive" legislature in 1906. This legislature passed a further revision of the convention system, which remained in place until 1912. In 1911, another initiated state statute was submitted on the same matter, and this time the legislature did not hinder its appearance on the ballot. That measure was approved by voters, but did not mark the end of the struggle for a direct primary in South Dakota.[2]

The 1912 version of Richards Law created an extremely complex system for primary elections and was criticized for its expense and complications. Before the law even took effect, the legislature approved another initiated state statute for the 1914 ballot called the Coffey Law. It would have repealed the Richard's Law and replaced it with a more conventional primary system. This measure, however, was not approved by the voters. The 1912 law was allowed to go into effect.[2]

While these two votes on the matter of direct primaries seemed to confirm the electorate's desire for direct primaries, the legislature enacted the Norbeck Law in 1915, which repealed the Richards law and substituted a more conventional primary system. The legislature enacted the measure with an emergency clause, making it impossible for a veto referendum to be called on the matter. The issue of legislative tampering by repealing initiated laws was challenged in the South Dakota Supreme Court, but the court upheld the constitutionality of such acts.[2]

The legislative tampering led Richards to revise his law again. He secured its placement on the 1916 ballot, where it was narrowly defeated by 323 votes. However, Richards continued his attempts and secured the measure's placement on the 1918 ballot, where it was approved. This removed the Norbeck Law of 1915 and gave the state a direct primary system with strong public support.[2]

Media editorial positions

See also: Endorsements of South Dakota ballot measures, 1916


  • The Freeman Courier said,
The politicians do not want the Richards law. They want the secret spoils system for the few in place of the open merit system for every body. They do not want a plain ballot. They want a confused ballot. They do not want issues discussed so the people can hear both sides before the vote as if provided in the Richards law. The people have therefore petitioned for the Richards law in amended form to be voted on at the November election. Vote "YES" and put it back to give it a fair trial and let officialdom know that "Under God the People Rule" in South Dakota.[3]

—The Freeman Courier, [4]

See also

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