Krebs: Ballot Questions Drive Voter Registration and Turnout

544,393 South Dakotans were registered to vote on Election Day. That’s a record, says Secretary of State Shantel Krebs. The 378,995 who turned out to exercise their right to vote didn’t set a record (381,975 South Dakotans cast Presidential votes in 2008), but Secretary Krebs is still pleased with turnout. She contends that ballot questions drove higher registration and turnout:

I think the ballot questions, having had 10 questions on the ballot about issues that would change state law or the constitution, people are really concerned and they wanted to show up and let their voices be heard on those ballot measures [Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, in Lee Strubinger, “Krebs Says South Dakotans Broke Election Day Records in State,” SDPB Radio, 2016.11.16].

We may not have found the magic to translating ballot questions into candidate votes, but if ballot measures can drive registration and turnout, and if we Democrats believe in “get out the vote” as an important campaign strategy, then we need to keep ballot questions in mind as a way to get our people to the polls.

11 Responses to Krebs: Ballot Questions Drive Voter Registration and Turnout

  1. The idea that ballot issues drive voter registration and turnout seems to be Cory’s. All that Shantel said is that people wanted to weigh in on ballot issues – nothing more.

    I don’t buy that ballot questions were a driver of voter registration or turnout. One way to tell is to compare the number of votes cast in the other statewide races with the number votes cast on ballot issues.

    South Dakotans cast 370,047 votes in the Presidential race and slightly less in each of the other statewide races. None of the ballot issues received as many total votes (yes and no combined) as the Presidential race or as the US Senate and US House race.

    A drop off in votes for ballot issues from the Presidential race and other statewide races fails to support Cory’s thesis that ballot issues drove voter registration or turnout.

  2. The thesis that is supported by the data is that most people who were going to the polls to vote on the statewide races also wanted their voices to be heard on ballot issues.

  3. mike from iowa

    I thought there were too many ballot initiatives and confused everyone.

  4. Ror makes a fair point. The undervote on the statewide races was 2.36% for President, 2.39% for U.S. House, 2.47% for U.S. Senate, and 5.86% for PUC.

    On ballot questions, S, RL 20, and IM 21 beat the PUC race for interest, with undervote between 4.6% and 5.7%. U, V, R, 23, 22, and T had undervote between 6.2% and 8.0%. Undervote on RL 19 was biggest at 10.09%.

    As a group, people were more interested in voting for prominent people than for policies.

    Mike, I will still reject the thesis that the number of ballot measures led to any sort of harmful confusion. Yes, lots of us had to stop and ask, “Which one was S? which one had the Democracy Credits?” But voters still kept straight, resoundingly, the two competing ballot measures (21 and U). Can you point to signs that confusion changed any outcome?

  5. Douglas Wiken

    Progressive SD Republicans and Democrats got initiative and referendum established in SD and ever since, GOP retrogrades have been trying to make it more difficult. If they want to reduce the number of ballot issues, the legislators should be more responsible and responsive to voters instead of rich contributors.

  6. Not to be an incredible cynic (…although the last week has given me perhaps good cause to become such), one wonders if Democrat turnout could be better increased by progressive ballot initiatives, or ballot initiatives greatly harmful to progressive causes.

  7. Meanwhile at South Dakota’s #2 political website, the whining of GOP legislators and GOP Party hacks can almost be audibly heard through the ever increasing ridiculousness of their complaints about IM 22 – the anti-corruption act.

    I’ll be honest that I voted against IM22, but the GOP is over there at the #2 political website suggesting that IM22 will:

    force legislators to get divorced

    prohibit anybody and everybody from from having any kind of discussion with their legislators;

    prohibit legislators from running private businesses; and

    force private businesses to cancel company Christmas parties that legislators aren’t even invited to.

    The caca is getting deep over there. Really deep.

  8. Donald Pay

    I think ballot issues increase civic engagement generally. Only really hot button issues, like abortion or nuclear waste disposal, might increase voter turnout. People really do study up and take voting seriously on these issues. Over time this results in a deeper interest in public affairs and voting.

  9. Get rid of the electoral college, in a red state like SD I hear a lot of “my vote doesn’t matter”, a popular vote might change turnout everywhere, at least on presidential years. I didn’t find any issues with the amount of ballot items this year, that is my only control over the sludge in Pierre and I’m glad to do it.

  10. Tim, I’m not leaping on the “abolish the Electoral College” bandwagon, but I would be curious to see if moving to popular vote and thus making South Dakota’s Presidential vote matter more would draw more voters to the polls in Presidential election years. Thing is, we already get a big boost in voting in South Dakota from the Presidential election; would shifting to popular vote make any bigger difference?

    I am glad, Tim, that you recognize the usefulness of ballot measures as a popular check on the Legislature. I’ll keep trying to bring Democrats back as another check on the Legislature.

  11. I’m for abolishing the electoral college. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote is now up to 1,439,123 and growing.

    May every vote in every state count equally!