South Dakota Democratic party chief Ben Nesselhuf has been doing a good job getting party finances on the rebound. However, his focus on fundraising appears to have kept him from boosting Democratic voter registration. Mr. Powers gleefully points to Ryan Lengerich's RCJ report showing Dems down 9% since the 2008 election:
In 2008, Democratic voter registration soared nationwide as well as in South Dakota. More than 13,000 voters registered Democrat between the 2006 and 2008 general elections, driven largely by the Obama campaign.
The momentum has waned since, with Democratic registration dropping 18,372 voters, or about 9 percent. The numbers have dipped below even the 2006 levels. State Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf said he is not worried, however.
"Registration doesn't really concern me. I am more concerned with how people vote," he said [Ryan Lengerich, "Voter Registration Down from Four Years Ago," Rapid City Journal, August 11, 2012].
Registration doesn't really concern me... those sound like famous last words. Maybe I'm wrong (after all, Nesslehuf does politics for a living; I just write about it), but number of people registered as a member of a party seems like one pretty good metric of party success. And in 2012, a general election year with an incumbent Democratic President on the ballot, Democratic registration in South Dakota has remained flat, hovering around 186,000 all year. That's not a sign of success.
Nesselhuf contends that, with Democrats offering Independents the opportunity to vote in our primary since 2010, comparing 2008 numbers with current numbers isn't fair. And indeed, Indies have enjoyed all the growth in registration over the last four years:
|South Dakota Voter Registration||GOP||Dems||Ind|
|Aug 1 2012||236,906||186,041||88,726|
That open primary, however, didn't translate into Indies flocking to Dem candidates in 2010. And Indies didn't exactly storm the polls in this year's primary: with a relatively interesting battle for the U.S. House nomination, turnout for the Democratic primary was still depressingly low, and significantly lower the GOP primary turnout.
Getting a voter to register Democrat builds the party. Democratic registration wins early buy-in to the Democratic platform and candidates. It gives potential candidates that many more targets for signatures for nominating petitions. A voter registration drive is a great way to make contact with voters, put a face on the party, and conduct interactions that conclude with concrete action, filling out and sending that card, to make people feel good about themselves and their democracy.
How people vote is the most important measure of party success, but getting people to register, to "buy into the brand," matters, too. Chairman Nesselhuf and the South Dakota Dems need to add some focus on the basic business of voter registration drives to bolster the party's electoral future.