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South Dakota Midterm Turnout 54%, Lowest in 20 Years

Multiple readers have asked about voter turnout in the midterm election. South Dakota's unofficial turnout Tuesday was 54.17%, the lowest for any general election in the last 22 years.

The average turnout for midterm elections since 1994, not counting this year, was 66.70%. Our unenthusiastic showing Tuesday drops that midterm average three points to 64.61%

This year's dropoff from the immediately preceding Presidential election was the largest in the last 20 years, and that's on top off (or on bottom of?) a below-average turnout in 2012.

Year Turnout diff
1992 75.01%
1994 73.65% -1.36%
1996 70.40% -3.26%
1998 58.81% -11.59%
2000 68.38% 9.57%
2002 71.52% 3.14%
2004 78.63% 7.11%
2006 67.26% -11.37%
2008 73.04% 5.78%
2010 62.27% -10.77%
2012 69.72% 7.45%
2014 54.17% -15.56%

Voter turnout for midterms in South Dakota has usually been more than ten percentage points less than turnout in Presidential elections. That fits the normal double-digit dropoff seen nationally. South Dakota's average midterm dropoff is 7.92%, but that number is skewed by two anomalously busy midterm elections, 1994 and 2002, when voter turnout increased over the last election. What set those two years apart? Bill Janklow. In 1994, Janklow made his gubernatorial comeback. In 2002, Janklow ran for Congress. Janklow was on the ballot in 1998, but that was just to keep his seat against a polite challenge from Democrat Bernie Hunhoff.

Notice also that the average pickup from midterm to next Presidential election is only 5.33%. We don't get back all the voters who slip away at midterm.

On last night's Thinking Unenslaved podcast with Jered Dawnne, I observed that corporations and other anti-democratic forces count declining voter turnout. You can't fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool some of the people some of the time. That adage carries some obvious math: the more of us who vote, the harder it is for certain candidates and PACs and big-money influencers to get their way by appealing to small segments of the population with fear, falsehoods, and focus-grouped images and slogans. The more of us who vote, the more likely it is we will get candidates who serve the general welfare over special interests.

Higher voter turnout doesn't guarantee we won't get corrupt Senators like Mike Rounds, but it's one good bulwark against bad leadership. Democracy is counting on us; let's bounce that turnout back up in 2016.


  1. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    Can you break that into parties Cory? Did the R's have higher turnout than D's? Seems like that has to be where Mike's big number came from. Either that or from some strange bunch of mailboxes somewhere. ;-)

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.06

    I wish, Bill! The SOS does not post partisan turnout. The best we can do is line up county turnout with county registration totals and guess... but that will take a little extra spreadsheeting!

  3. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    Seems like somebody has that info. May have to go courthouse to courthouse and ask the auditors. Good job for Sibby. Put him to work, Cory. Make him pay rent for his soapbox real estate here. ;-)

  4. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    ...which reminds me, has Sibby been hitting your tip jar adequately, or is he just a freeloader? LOL

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.06

    My tip jar doesn't accept barter chickens and Mazacoin.

  6. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    Ah yes, as I suspected. King of the Digital Road. Third boxcar, midnight train. Sib knows every engineer in every town, and every lock that ain't locked when no one's around. :^)

  7. Nick Nemec 2014.11.06

    My father in law was a railroad hobo during the Great Depression, all the hobos knew where the kind hearted house wives lived and where they could get a meal for a few hours work.
    His advice, avoid Dodge City (mean cop in cahoots with mean judge, all bums in town sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang), always have at least one guy stay awake when sleeping in box cars so some jerk doesn't shut the doors and lock you in.

  8. Nick Nemec 2014.11.06

    Nice, a plate of beans was a nickel and ketchup was free.

  9. Bill Dithmer 2014.11.06

    And he dont pay no union dues

    The Blindman

  10. Bill Dithmer 2014.11.06

    Oh what a massive headache heaves
    When we do drink and to exceeds
    The end of limitations gone
    No voting booths just moving on

    Our warnings mute on EB-5
    But one who knew is not alive
    There's so much more for us to know
    What evidence will never show

    Yet in the state where you survive
    Incumbency is still alive
    With John and Kristi who I dont like
    Now one more fool called Cardboard Mike

    So we move on and make a change
    To see incumbents of a different name
    To dream to post of life anew
    And look at people with a different view

    Its not the R brfore the name
    Its not the D that makes the game
    Its commoners like you and me
    That stay involved and keep us free

    The Blindman

  11. David Bergan 2014.11.06

    edit: 2nd purple-est. I overlooked Delaware.

    Still, I'm glad to see we're on the path to Ataraxia.

  12. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    Great poem Dithmer. Thank you, sir.

  13. David Bergan 2014.11.06

    That's a hell of a good song.

    Sure... I can see the similarities between Zen and Ataraxia. If there's a difference, maybe Zen is more inward-focused and Ataraxia is more about managing externals? Zen is about finding the activities that puts your mind/spirit in a pleasant zone free from the stress and worries of the world ("And when I play this guitar tonight, everything in my world is alright"... or artists paint, authors write, David plays Skyrim, etc.) Ataraxia is maybe more about ordering one's life to avoid the things that vex us... like politics, religion, and manipulative/argumentative people.

    Nothing wrong with going all-of-the-above on roads to peace and tranquility, though. :)

  14. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    Zen is being totally engaged in potentially vexing situations and knowing there's really no one there to get vexed. Zen meditation is the practice by which one comes to this understanding. Thoughts without a thinker.

  15. Bill Dithmer 2014.11.06

    So zen is the conshunce communicating with the soul to achieve nervona

    The Blindman?

  16. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.11.06

    Any possibility that we could have had a Florida, 2000 or an Ohio 2004? Does anyone else question the Bob Litz fiasco in Minnehaha, especially after he came out election afternoon and was bragging about how fast the votes would be counted with the new machines.

    Having said that. I am ashamed of myself. I only talked to my close friends and relatives about the election and very few others with whom I come in contact a few times a week. Yesterday, I was with a group and heard them talking about how bad they felt for Rick after all the hard work he put in. BUt one after one, they confessed that they had not voted.

    The turnout that we had, with the beautiful weather, that we had, is a downright disgrace and probably a lot of us are to blame. I know I sure feel that I have some of the blame.

  17. SDBlue 2014.11.06

    I really want to try and stay positive until 2016. That said, the GOP has reigned here for 40 of my 55 years. They have perfected their propaganda. As a female progressive, I have little to no representation at the state level, and zero representation at the federal level. I cannot comprehend electing a man to the Senate who is under federal investigation. It is absurd. In two years, corporations are still going to be people, Fox Noise and right-wing media will still be fear-mongering, gerrymandered districts will remain the same and voters will continue to be suppressed. The GOP agenda didn't work in 2012. It worked famously in 2014. It is difficult to find a reason it will not work in 2016.

  18. Steve Sibson 2014.11.06

    "I observed that corporations and other anti-democratic forces count declining voter turnout. You can't fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool some of the people some of the time."

    Including Warren Buffett.

  19. Danno 2014.11.06


    Phil Jenson won in Rapid. Guess that goes to show you they could put a Goat on the ballot in Rapid and so long as it had an R behind it's name, it would win over a regular person.

    Sad really. I thought Robbin was sure to win.

  20. Danno 2014.11.06

    By the way, I don't spell names very well. Sorry.

  21. Nick Nemec 2014.11.06

    In many parts of SD Satan (R, Hell) himself would easily defeat Jesus Christ (D, Heaven). Besides Jesus sounds like he might be from south of the border and his platform is too liberal.

  22. Nick Nemec 2014.11.06

    Besides that Jesus fellow is kind of a long hair hippie looking dude and Satan is a respected businessmen, I believe he's in the business of buying and selling souls, and business is booming.

  23. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    No souls in Zen, Dithmer.
    No nothing actually.
    We're talking monad here.
    Wax on, wax off.

  24. Amanda 2014.11.06

    I appreciate what you have to say. You are's all of us, not just the three guys who busted their butts down at the party office. That's my biggest complaint every time Democrats lose. There's an outcry that we need a new chair and/or ED. That may be true, but unless the rest of "us" in the party start stepping up and following through with what needs to happen to turn voters out, nothing will change. I also am not making any assumptions that you are a Democrat, it was just a nice transition into the rant I've been building for a couple of days now. :) I also must say (to prevent being yelled at) that I KNOW there are several people who give their time, talent, energy and dollars to the Party and Dem candidates, but it isn't enough. We need more of those kinds of activists and less of the "if it's not my way we aren't going to do it" kind of activists in our party. Rant over. Have a great Thursday!

  25. OJ Semans Sr. 2014.11.06

    Now we are still crunching numbers like crazy, but wanted to share a few bright spots. While statewide turnout in South Dakota plummeted by more than 8 points (41,000 fewer voters) versus the 2010 midterm election, the reservation counties either increased or saw only slight declines.

    In fact, of the state's 66 counties, only 4 saw an increase in turnout (total votes and/or %) this year vs. 2010 and they are ALL reservation counties. Shannon (Pine Ridge), Todd (Rosebud), Buffalo (Crow Creek), and Corson (Standing Rock) were the only counties in the state to cast more ballots this year than in 2010.

    Shannon already has 173 more votes than 2010, with hundreds of provisional still to count. Todd had 218 more votes and a 5.5 point turnout increase over the last midterm. Buffalo only had 12 more votes, but that represents a 6.8 point turnout bump, and Corson had 61 more votes and a 2.5 point turnout % increase.

    Again, the two biggest vote increases in the state in this election were in Todd County and Shannon County!

    Since October 20th 2014 we have also registered 500 plus new voters.

  26. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.06

    Among the many the reasons that Democrats lost is that Democrats across the nation betrayed their president for the most foolish of reasons, they allowed the Republicans to define him all the while barely supporting his policies.
    Democrats were ashamed of our president, they didn't ask him to campaign for them, or even in some cases, ask him to support their campaigns.

  27. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    OJ, Semans Sr., that's great news! Do you know if the remaining provisional ballots are going to in fact be counted? I sure hope so. Are they waiting for a court ok or something? Thanks again for the super report.

  28. mike from iowa 2014.11.06

    Maybe those 41,000 missing voters are in scattered woodlots around the state. Prolly too well educated on issues and had to be silenced.

  29. OJ Semans Sr. 2014.11.06

    We are meeting with the Fall River County Auditor and the States Attorney and who know who else tomorrow at 9 am will give an update after the meeting.

  30. leslie 2014.11.06

    Live in Kyle-vote in Porcupine?

    The Nation-The number of voters impacted by the new restrictions exceeded the margin of victory in close races for senate and governor in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Florida, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

    In the North Carolina senate race, Republican Thom Tillis, who as speaker of the North Carolina General Assembly oversaw the state’s new voting law, defeated Democrat Kay Hagan by 50,000 votes. Nearly five times as many voters in 2010 used the voting reforms eliminated by the North Carolina GOP—200,000 voted during the now-eliminated first week of early voting, 20,000 used same-day registration and 7,000 cast out-of-precinct ballots

  31. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    Roger, I believe you are exactly right. Related to that, both Weiland and Pressler were fairly straightforward about their support for Obama, but of course, given the national drumbeat, it really didn't help much other than to underline their willingness to tell the truth, despite the obvious political downside.*

    I would like to have seen a far more robust defense of Mr. Obama from our party, and I'd disappointed in our Democrats for falling for such an obvious election gimmick.

    The GOP knows damn well how much our president has done to clean up the mess they made. And now that the hardest part is over, they're positioning themselves to come in and take all the credit for the good things he and the Dems have already accomplished.

    I think that's dirty politics, but oh well. Let's see how it gets sorted out in the history books. People didn't like Lincoln when he was in office either. ;-)

    *as a sidenote, how silly of Rick and Larry to think that telling the truth might actually be a way to get a bunch of Republicans to vote for them. ;-)

  32. leslie 2014.11.06

    Many voters also arrived at the wrong polling location, where they could no longer cast a regular ballot out-of-precinct.*** The provisional ballots they cast will most likely not be counted. “We were getting tons and tons of calls from voters who were turned away because they were at the wrong precinct,” Riggs said.***

    With more states under GOP control, the highest number since the 1920s, expect new states to pass voting restrictions in the near future. In Nevada, which is now controlled by Republicans, GOP strategists are already urging the Republican legislature to swiftly enact a new voter ID law.

    Since Republican legislatures across the country implemented new voting restrictions after 2010 and the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, it’s become easier to buy an election and harder to vote in one. The Nation, above

  33. mike from iowa 2014.11.06

    Anybody bother to ask Rounds if he can recall being given a sinate seat this Tuesday past?

  34. bearcreekbat 2014.11.06

    OJ - thanks for the good news on the votes from Indian Country. One quick point is that voters have also decided that Shannon County is no longer Shannon County, it is now Oglala Lakota County.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.06

    "It's commoners like you and me
    That stay involved and keep us free."


  36. bearcreekbat 2014.11.06

    Bill & Roger - Today on news at noon a purported leader of the Pennington County Democrats, Mike Wilson I think, said that the message is Democrats in SD have to move more to the center (a/k/a right) if they hope to win elections. That assessment contradicts the idea that Democrats should have more fully backed Obama (based on the flawed premise that Obama was somehow way left of center).

    I tend to see it like Roger, Democrats should have come out supporting Obama and every single positive thing that has occurred during his administration. Republicans succeeded by sucking Democrats into the mantra that everything in the USA is in bad shape, and that this is all Obama's fault. Simply focusing on the many, many positive changes during Obama's administration perhaps would have been a more successful way to reach voters and help them feel good about where we have come since W days.

  37. jerry 2014.11.06

    Maybe a lawsuit to the courts contending civil rights being denied may help bring about a standardized voter id card like a social security card with your photo on it with no cost to the voter.

  38. Les 2014.11.06

    """"""*as a sidenote, how silly of Rick and Larry to think that telling the truth might actually be a way to get a bunch of Republicans to vote for them. ;-)""""". That is a fact, regardless of party. Facts don't win elections and facts are damn hard to swallow for both parties. It didn't get a bunch of Dems to vote Dem ither.

  39. larry kurtz 2014.11.06

    brutal cold forecast for south dakota: the perfect prescription for that what ails you.

  40. Bill Fleming 2014.11.06

    I know Mike Wilson. He's a long time client, and I love him to pieces.
    But I don't agree with him about that. If we're all going to start acting the same, why do we even need to have political parties? I'm concerned about or party too. Mostly I'm concerned because it looks like maybe we don't have one.

    Here's what happens. It's like when two guys are arrested who have committed a crime. They take each guy in a separate room and offer him a deal. Rat out the other guy and you get off free. The only way they both win is if they trust each other and keep their mouths shut. But if they do it the opposite day and they both talk, they're both screwed, because they both for fingered.*

    That's what happened in this election (nationally), everybody ratted and everybody tanked. The Republicans are a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them

    We got played like a fiddle.
    *I didn't invent this analogy. I saw it on TV but I forget where, sorry.

  41. leslie 2014.11.06

    les-different reasons for repub vote and dem vote re: truth

  42. larry kurtz 2014.11.06

    Mike Wilson should have been drafted for AG: he's a wuss for not listening to me.

  43. larry kurtz 2014.11.06

    I'm furious at myself for not asserting my power at the convention.

  44. Jana 2014.11.06

    Leslie. Truth is a powerful word and one that is unfortunately missing in today's politics.

    Wouldn't it be fun to have every candidate take a shot of sodium pentothal before every debate or editorial board meeting?

    Of course that won't happen. They could end up with autism or become sexually active...I've heard that happens with vaccinations.

  45. larry kurtz 2014.11.06

    Bernie could have stemmed the blood flow.

  46. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.06

    Bill and bear,
    Great input, thanks.
    The other part of my analysis on the election results is that both locally and nationally Democrats have allowed themselves to be branded as "liberals". In South Dakota liberal is the worst thing you can be, even as you receive the benefit of social programs.
    President Obama was not a national issue, Republicans barely mentioned it because they know the truth about the Obama economic recovery. John Tristan on one his posts stated that President Obama's economic policies have been good for the private sector. Whey didn't Democrats send that message to voters? The recovery was slow at times and there are still areas of concern but it is a damn sight better than what McCain and Romney would have done.
    What is so difficult to define liberalism in this state? I think most of the Democrats on Madville are liberal leaning, but they seem to me like pragmatic liberals. If we are to survive as a party, we define ourselves better and define the Republican Party for what they are.

  47. Les 2014.11.06

    """""les-different reasons for repub vote and dem vote re: truth""""". Gotcha, leslie. Kind of like old men starting wars for our youth to fight and us praying to God our kids have his hand fightin them demons. I think truth is facts and nobody like facts and nither win elections. Sorry but truth has kicked my butt every time and my head no longer wishes to hit that hard wall of apathy.

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