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How to Become State Democratic Party Chair… and Turnout-Based Vote Bonuses?

In the South Dakota Republican Party, the Governor pretty much picks the party chair. We Democrats, having no Governor and (theoretically) much less fealty to tradition, hierarchy, and divine right of kings, hold an election.

However, the South Dakota Democratic Party puts its own not quite democratic twist on the election for state party chair. Next month, when the State Central Committee convenes (at Oacoma, I hear), members in attendance will elect a replacement for current chair Deb Knecht. But not every member's vote will count the same. The SDDP, like the SDGOP, uses a proportional voting scheme based on the total vote cast by each member's county for the last Democratic candidate for governor. This system applies to the selection of nominees for statewide constitutional offices as well.

Have some more coffee: here comes math!

County Wismer Votes %DemVote
Minnehaha 14716 20.86%
Pennington 7551 10.70%
Brown 3864 5.48%
Lincoln 3513 4.98%
Brookings 2792 3.96%
Codington 2158 3.06%
Yankton 2088 2.96%
Lawrence 2000 2.83%
Shannon 1875 2.66%
Beadle 1433 2.03%
Meade 1373 1.95%
Clay 1372 1.94%
Todd 1354 1.92%
Roberts 1346 1.91%
Davison 1255 1.78%
Lake 1205 1.71%
Hughes 1113 1.58%
Union 1092 1.55%
Day 1065 1.51%
Marshall 970 1.37%
Charles Mix 893 1.27%
Grant 827 1.17%
Custer 780 1.11%
Turner 713 1.01%
Dewey 666 0.94%
Spink 650 0.92%
Moody 638 0.90%
Fall River 609 0.86%
Bon Homme 577 0.82%
Kingsbury 568 0.81%
Butte 513 0.73%
Deuel 484 0.69%
Hamlin 472 0.67%
Hutchinson 466 0.66%
McCook 462 0.65%
Brule 388 0.55%
Edmunds 380 0.54%
Walworth 370 0.52%
Gregory 366 0.52%
Corson 363 0.51%
Tripp 348 0.49%
Clark 324 0.46%
Lyman 318 0.45%
Aurora 312 0.44%
Hand 290 0.41%
Hanson 280 0.40%
Bennett 276 0.39%
Buffalo 244 0.35%
Ziebach 238 0.34%
Jackson 233 0.33%
Mellette 224 0.32%
Miner 224 0.32%
Stanley 208 0.29%
Sanborn 203 0.29%
Jerauld 197 0.28%
Perkins 184 0.26%
Douglas 171 0.24%
Potter 170 0.24%
McPherson 160 0.23%
Faulk 157 0.22%
Hyde 111 0.16%
Sully 96 0.14%
Campbell 82 0.12%
Haakon 72 0.10%
Jones 60 0.09%
Harding 47 0.07%
TOTAL 70549 100.00%

Minnehaha County provided a tick more than 20% of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Susan Wismer's votes. Pennington County gave Wismer not quite 11% of her statewide tally. Those percentages mean that when the SDDP Central Committee votes, Minnehaha County chairman Jeff Barth's vote will count almost twice as much as Pennington County chairman Mike Wilson's.

Under this proportional voting scheme, seven counties—Minnehaha, Pennington, Brown, Lincoln, Brookings, Codington, and Yankton—can elect the chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party. My friends Lake County chair Lorri May and Hyde County chair Nick Nemec get a say, but it would take 13 Mays or 133 Nemecs to outvote one Jeff Barth. Worst off in this math is Harding County chair Linda Stephens. Her county's 0.07% share of the Wismer vote means Stephens would have to vote 314 times to beat Barth.

This math gets wonky if a county does not bring its full contingent of committee members. The vote weight is assigned to each county delegation as a whole, then divided equally among however many voting delegates that county sends. If Stephens is the only delegate from Harding County, her vote will count as Harding County's full 0.07%, while Barth, who will likely lead a full contingent from Minnehaha, will cast a vote worth only a fraction of Minnehaha's full 20.86%. But the basic comparison holds: the Minnehaha delegation wields the chair-selection power of 1.95 Penningtons, 12.21 Lakes, 132.58 Hydes, and 313.11 Hardings.

An ambitious aspirant to the chair could make some calls and help organize some party committees in the twelve counties that currently list no committee members. However, those twelve counties combined would wield only 5.65% of the chair-electing power.

This proportional voting scheme is arguably democratic. To the extent that county committees represent their local Democrats, this House-like scheme is more representative of a Senate-like scheme that would give each county delegation four votes.

But what if we apportioned voting rights in a way that rewarded county performance? The current system gives Minnehaha County the most say in picking a chair because it turned out the most votes for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. But the biggest county in the state will get that advantage in every election. Suppose we gave credit to counties based on how much their Democratic turnout beat the statewide average?

Imagine this scheme: each county still gets its proportional vote based on the number of county voters who picked the Democrat for governor in the last election. But then we allot each county bonus votes based on how many more Democrats they turned out for governor than the statewide percentage would have predicted. After all, if a county can turn out a higher than average percentage of Dems, they may know something about who ought to be chair.

For example, had Minnehaha County given Wismer the statewide 25.43% of its vote, they would have given Wismer only 13,800 votes. Minnehaha turned out 14,716 Wismer votes, 6.63% better than the statewide turnout. Thus, we give Minnehaha County 6 bonus votes.

But look who else benefits. Shannon County's Democratic turnout was 176% better than the state average. Shannon County gets 176 bonus votes in the SDDP chair election.

If bonus votes only go to the above average, then a lot of counties get no bonus vote. 42 counties gave Wismer fewer votes than the statewide average would have.

Weight the proportional vote equally with the bonus vote, and here's how the power in electing the SDDP chair would break down:

County over/under state avg bonus vote bonus weight Adjusted SDDP Chair Vote status quo chair vote
Minnehaha 6.63% 6 0.56% 10.71% 20.86%
Shannon 176.02% 176 16.51% 9.58% 2.66%
Todd 148.32% 148 13.88% 7.90% 1.92%
Marshall 116.34% 116 10.88% 6.13% 1.37%
Pennington -11.25% 0 0.00% 5.35% 10.70%
Buffalo 110.86% 110 10.32% 5.33% 0.35%
Day 74.19% 74 6.94% 4.23% 1.51%
Dewey 79.86% 79 7.41% 4.18% 0.94%
Brown 26.41% 26 2.44% 3.96% 5.48%
Roberts 64.42% 64 6.00% 3.96% 1.91%
Clay 43.63% 43 4.03% 2.99% 1.94%
Corson 56.85% 56 5.25% 2.88% 0.51%
Brookings 19.02% 19 1.78% 2.87% 3.96%
Lincoln -18.12% 0 0.00% 2.49% 4.98%
Ziebach 49.02% 49 4.60% 2.47% 0.34%
Yankton 6.29% 6 0.56% 1.76% 2.96%
Codington -6.85% 0 0.00% 1.53% 3.06%
Mellette 29.34% 29 2.72% 1.52% 0.32%
Lawrence -11.60% 0 0.00% 1.42% 2.83%
Grant 12.33% 12 1.13% 1.15% 1.17%
Charles Mix 10.45% 10 0.94% 1.10% 1.27%
Beadle 0.55% 0 0.00% 1.02% 2.03%
Bennett 17.96% 17 1.59% 0.99% 0.39%
Meade -35.02% 0 0.00% 0.97% 1.95%
Davison -18.41% 0 0.00% 0.89% 1.78%
Lake -2.71% 0 0.00% 0.85% 1.71%
Hughes -37.09% 0 0.00% 0.79% 1.58%
Union -15.82% 0 0.00% 0.77% 1.55%
Deuel 8.01% 8 0.75% 0.72% 0.69%
Moody 4.83% 4 0.38% 0.64% 0.90%
Kingsbury 5.70% 5 0.47% 0.64% 0.81%
Custer -17.33% 0 0.00% 0.55% 1.11%
Aurora 7.71% 7 0.66% 0.55% 0.44%
Turner -14.97% 0 0.00% 0.51% 1.01%
Spink 0.86% 0 0.00% 0.46% 0.92%
Fall River -17.80% 0 0.00% 0.43% 0.86%
Bon Homme -5.39% 0 0.00% 0.41% 0.82%
Butte -37.04% 0 0.00% 0.36% 0.73%
Hamlin -16.85% 0 0.00% 0.33% 0.67%
Hutchinson -33.78% 0 0.00% 0.33% 0.66%
McCook -11.69% 0 0.00% 0.33% 0.65%
Brule -13.56% 0 0.00% 0.27% 0.55%
Lyman 1.08% 1 0.09% 0.27% 0.45%
Edmunds -12.82% 0 0.00% 0.27% 0.54%
Walworth -24.03% 0 0.00% 0.26% 0.52%
Gregory -20.36% 0 0.00% 0.26% 0.52%
Tripp -37.60% 0 0.00% 0.25% 0.49%
Clark -16.79% 0 0.00% 0.23% 0.46%
Jackson 1.12% 1 0.09% 0.21% 0.33%
Hand -23.67% 0 0.00% 0.21% 0.41%
Hanson -17.78% 0 0.00% 0.20% 0.40%
Miner 0.55% 0 0.00% 0.16% 0.32%
Stanley -36.70% 0 0.00% 0.15% 0.29%
Sanborn -7.72% 0 0.00% 0.14% 0.29%
Jerauld -7.78% 0 0.00% 0.14% 0.28%
Perkins -45.48% 0 0.00% 0.13% 0.26%
Douglas -49.14% 0 0.00% 0.12% 0.24%
Potter -42.67% 0 0.00% 0.12% 0.24%
McPherson -38.80% 0 0.00% 0.11% 0.23%
Faulk -30.79% 0 0.00% 0.11% 0.22%
Hyde -27.62% 0 0.00% 0.08% 0.16%
Sully -44.57% 0 0.00% 0.07% 0.14%
Campbell -48.16% 0 0.00% 0.06% 0.12%
Haakon -67.31% 0 0.00% 0.05% 0.10%
Jones -49.04% 0 0.00% 0.04% 0.09%
Harding -69.70% 0 0.00% 0.03% 0.07%

Minnehaha stays on top, and Harding still comes out at the bottom of the pile. But a number of counties that more successfully brought a higher percentage of their neighbors to the polls for Dems get a bigger say in picking the chair.

The Democratic Party has bigger fish to fry than reworking its voting system for picking a chairman. But what system do you think offers the fairest vote for the party leadership?


  1. larry kurtz 2014.11.16

    Dems should boycott the session rather than be whipped like rented mules.

  2. 96Tears 2014.11.16

    Maybe Kathy Tyler should serve as vice chair and use the position as a liaison with the Democrats in the legislature and as a bully pulpit to keep up the heat on corruption and investigations on the GOP machine in Pierre.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.16

    Boycott the session, and miss all that free food from the Chamber and other groups? No way! Pass the smokies!

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.16

    96, I'd be glad to see some active presence from the SDDP in Pierre during session. How about sending the chair and exec out there for the full session to connect with and maybe even coordinate the folks testifying on bills? Can we do some party-building that way during the session?

  5. 96Tears 2014.11.16

    How about just establishing the presence of that second party in the alleged two-party system? Bob Mercer this morning notes the SDGOP sent out a press release on the new legislative leadership while the Dems didn't bother. As a first step in the 2015 session, this isn't good. You're not going to win any debates by remaining invisible.

  6. Taunia 2014.11.16

    To Nick Nemec, Jeff Barth and all other SDDP County Chairs:

    How about Cory being SDDP Chair?

    Attached is an article about a plan for the left to win several states back. South Dakota is not a targeted state, however, Cory, through his research and his blog, has an impact on South Dakota politics already.

    Targeted states will "...focus on data and analytics, grassroots organizing, messaging and opposition researching, and of course fundraising." Cory has already spent considerable time analyzing this election and we know he loves research. He is the ultimate grassroots organizer.

    There's usually a pecking order to this party stuff. At the very least, why not consider Cory being co-chair with a party-destined chair?

  7. JeniW 2014.11.16

    Larry, traveling to Pierre is not feasible for many, especially during the winter, but Democrats should attend as many of the Legislative Coffees as possible.

    Questions to ask at the Coffees:

    1. How has the money spent on paying the membership to ALEC, and for attending ALEC activities benefited the citizens of SD? Why is there not an accountability for the dollars spent on ALEC events?

    2. During the government shut-down Mt. Rushmore was closed. Gov. Daugaard proved that there are resources within the state to open it. With that in mind, will the state ask for less federal funding so that the federal government will not go into even more debt?

    3. It is not likely that there will be a significant increase of funding for education, including for teacher's salaries and benefits, what options will the legislators provide? For example, charging a tuition when there are more than two children in a family attending the public schools at the same time? Will there be more efforts to promote home-schooling? Will the age of dropping out of school revert to 16 year olds, or reducing the number of hours in the classroom.

    4. With the refusal of expanding Medicaid, what, if any will be the impact on the nursing homes that rely on Medicaid funding to provide care for new residents to the nursing homes after Medicare funding is exhausted (usually in three month?)

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.16

    Hey, JeniW, how about we do both? Party leadership and staff can set up shop in Pierre during session, be there every day that legislators are, jawbone and strike deals with folks coming to testify against dumb Republican bills, and provide some backup research and moral support to our hearty few Democratic legislators. Then when the legislators leave town, party leadership does the same, fanning out around the state to do those coffees, inform the voters about what's up in Pierre, field questions, and hunt for donors, volunteers, and 2016 candidates.

    This assumes, of course, that we pick a party chair and other leaders who have no life and infinite gas money. ;-)

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.16

    Holy cow, Taunia, don't go getting me in trouble! :-D

  10. Taunia 2014.11.16

    Trouble is doing the same stuff over and over and expecting a different result. Trouble is knowing the next chair in line has been groomed to be party chair by the current and past chairs. Trouble is not looking outside the box.

  11. Bob Klein 2014.11.16

    I could be mistaken as it's been a few years since I cast a ballot for SDDP state chair. However, a county is able to divide its proportional vote between those appropriate officeholders in attendance at that meeting. My memory says that each county can have up to 4 people voting: County Chair, County Vice Chair, and State Central Committeeman and State Central Commiteewoman.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.16

    Bob, that sounds right. If Barth brings a full delegation, each member gets a quarter of Minnehaha's proportional vote. So ultimately, Barth's vote is really worth just a tick over 5% of the total vote. But his proportional power compared to any other voting member from a county bringing its full delegation remains at the ratios I describe above.

    By the way, Bob, will you be lobbying your local Dems on whom to pick for State Chair? No one has announced, but does the Brookings delegations have any hopefuls? How about Mary Perpich?

  13. Bob Klein 2014.11.16

    You are correct with your numbers analysis, Corey.

    I haven't discussed this with anyone. I'd be surprised if Mary wants to make that kind of commitment.

    Deb wanted this job previously, and we elected Jack Billion. I don't know she's had an opportunity to put her stamp on the organization.

    What it really comes down to is that this is a volunteer organization. As such, people come and go and their level of interest changes as their life changes. Volunteer jobs will occupy whatever level of energy you want to bring to them. There aren't many thanks for doing a really good job. To successfully accomplish this job requires both a general and a whole lot of volunteer troops who will follow even when they think the general is erroneous.
    It would be interesting to know which Democratic chair is actually doing a great job and what tools that chair has at her disposal.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.16

    Bob, that last point would be very interesting: what tools does the chair have? How well has the chair used those tools? Is that information that the SDDP Central Committee voting delegates have available to evaluate their chair and exec?

  15. Bob Klein 2014.11.16

    I do not know. I'm not so sure that the party chair is all that relevant.

    I've heard the George McGovern organizational stories from some of those who were there when he was organizing. He'd go into a county and say, "I want you to be chair." He not only knew his chairs, but they were responsible to him.

    The one who knows as much about this as anyone (and is on line a bit) is Nick Nemec.

  16. leslie 2014.11.17


    kathy tyler officer in sddp-you bet!

    sddp in pierre all session-you bet!

    start now-formally fielding candidates via sub committee.

    volunteer organization- yep, sure is!

    county chairs-plethora of info and expertise

    grooming prospective chairs-meh, maybe some places, i haven't seen it. almost like taking turns among the die hards. (see volunteer org. above)

  17. Lorri May 2014.11.17

    Let me weigh in on some of the questions previously asked.

    I am the Secretary of the SDDP. I've held this position from 2009-2010 and 2012-Present. I am also the Lake County Democratic Chair, having held that position since 2012.

    In my volunteer job - all Central Committee positions are volunteer - I'm responsible for taking minutes during the Executive Board meetings and the State Central Committee meetings. I take minutes at all meetings, whether in person or via teleconferences.

    I'm in District 8, one of those districts that does not have a full slate of officers in each county. (We are only one position short in Lake County, that being Vice Chair. We have the other positions filled: Secretary, Treasurer, State Committeeman, and State Committeewoman.)

    We have started working on helping other counties in our district to organize. Those counties are Moody, Miner, and Sanborn. Moody County has a loose slate of officers so they are semi-organized.

    Our problem with district cohesiveness deals with geography. Because of gerrymandering, we have a district that is 40 miles wide by 100 miles long. It's been hard for candidates to travel the entire district in order to campaign, but I suspect that was the Republicans' point in gerrymandering our district that way.

    As for the SDDP Chair and Vice-Chair, it's up to them, working in tandem with the State Executive Board (Zach Crago, Zach Nistler, and Ryan Rolfs) to raise money for the state Democratic party. Deb Knecht, SDDP Chair, set a goal for doing that this past two years and has worked hard to meet that goal. The Executive Board and State Central Committee took on the challenge of getting more donations, too. The SDDP has been in the black for the past two years thanks to their efforts. Can we do things better? Of course. Every organization can, but pulling ourselves up from being in the red to being in the black is a good start.

    Elections will be held in December at our next quarterly meeting. Democrats can step up to the plate and volunteer to run for these volunteer positions or can be nominated by others to run for them. We do the weighted count for voting, as Cory stated. Some counties, most of which have no county officers, send no voting members, so they don't get a say in who their state Committee members will be. This is why we're trying to organize those Democrats in every county.

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