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Indy Registration Surges During Referendum Drive; Dems Decline Less Dramatic Than in 2013–2014

Bob Mercer provides his regular update on voter registration totals in South Dakota. Here’s a look at the monthly percentage changes for Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and total registered voters this year:

SD Voter Registration Percentage Changes Jan-Sep 2015

In every month except July, Democrats have declined by tiny fractions. In every month, more people have joined the Republicans than have left the Democrats. And in every month but March, more people have registered as Independents (in May, twelve times as many) as have registered as Republicans.

There’s no explaining the Independent surge from an organizational standpoint: I’m not aware of any organization focusing on registering Independents. I’d like to think that the petition drive against SB 69 (now Referred Law 19), the Legislature’s attempt to make it impossible for Independents to get on the ballot, may have driven voters to register Independent, but given that most of the press on SB 69 came from this blog and from Rick Knobe, I’m not sure the two of us can claim credit for 3,796 South Dakotans all registering Independent in two months. Interestingly, the rate of new Independent registration dipped notably after the May endorsement of the SB 69 petition by (all of the data charted above except January come from reports at the beginning of each month, meaning the June report mostly reflects May activity), which suggests that that organization’s entry into the discussion of SB 69 did not translate into an additional surge of registration… or that the low-hanging fruit of folks who’d be mobilized to vote by that single issue had already been picked in March and April.

The Republican percentage changes most closely reflect the overall registration figures, suggesting that the GOP coasted along nicely with whatever overall trends were moving people to register.

The Democrats saw a few dozen people trickle away each month except July, when our net gain was 11. Eight of those nine months are when the party labored along without an executive director, as we waited for Suzie Jones Pranger to emerge from clerking in federal court. But I can’t hang this slow entropy on the unacceptably long delay in filling the executive director position. The average Democratic decline this year from report to report has been –0.05%. The average monthly decline in 2014 was –0.26%; in 2013, –0.38%. In big election year 2012, we added only +0.06% a month. As Bob Mercer is always keen to remind us, the Democrats’ losses are chronic. Make a little extra registration push in conjunction with the current initiative petition drives, and the new state Dems exec could post a metric of producing more monthly growth in voter registration in an off-election year than Democrats achieved during the last Presidential election.

Losing voters while the other party gains is a grave problem for the South Dakota Democratic Party. Turning that trend around, as well as appealing to the swiftly growing Independent bloc, must be a key mission of the SDDP’s new management.


  1. jerry 2015-09-05 09:40

    Methinks, Independents long for change from the direction the state has taken us. Without someone who can lead, Indy’s choose to stay home in protest.

  2. leslie 2015-09-05 10:23

    vast right wing propaganda conspiracy bad mouthing, mocking democrats as whiners drives individuals to register/re-register independents’ (obstinates ) refusal to be manipulated by the only two info sources (red/blue)

  3. Miller 2015-09-05 11:11

    It is possible that the petition drives are registering more people as independents, not because those people are independent, but because people don’t want to disclose their party
    affiliation to the petition collector. I’ve been registering approximately equal numbers of democrats and republicans, with five times as many independents.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-05 12:19

    Interesting stats for your good work, Miller! That suggests to me that you’re creating a pool of new voters whom we Dems can get, if we remind them that Democrats are the party fighting for their right to sign such petitions and have their say in the democratic process.

  5. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-09-05 15:52

    I noticed that the totals are declining across the board. Why? Is SD’s population in decline? Fewer people registering? Why?

  6. Winston 2015-09-05 18:18

    It does not help every two years when we as Democrats do not run someone for every statewide race…. If you do not the have the merchandise on hand the customers will eventually stop showing up at your store.

  7. Les 2015-09-06 08:01

    ” I’m not sure the two of us can claim credit for 3,796 ” That you played a large part is not a stretch, Cory. Without out you nothing would have changed. Good job.

  8. Chris S. 2015-09-06 08:52

    Most “Independents” actually have a strong affiliation with one party or another. That is, they register as Independent and claim to be Independent, but when they get in the voting booth, they tend to reliably vote for one particular party.

    A national surge in “Independent” registration happened during the late Dubya years. Many Republicans didn’t like the direction their party was headed, or they were embarrassed by the party’s failures under Dubya, so they re-registered as “Independent.” It distanced them from policy failures, and it gave them style points for not being in one party or the other (the media loves people like that).

    They still vote reliably Republican, though, so it’s just a cosmetic branding change.

  9. leslie 2015-09-06 10:08

    so all those independent registrations are actually republicans? yikes. winston, dem candidates are “whack-a-moles”, no wonder we have trouble.

  10. Winston 2015-09-06 14:32

    Leslie, our candidates definitely need to exemplify once again the notion that they are “Proud to be Democrats.” But we also need a full slate of candidates even if some are weak. Right now, the electorate sees the Democratic Party in South Dakota as in liquidation mode and that image needs to end.

    As a party, we have gone from being a full service party under the McGovern-Kneip era, to a congressional party under the Dashcle-Johnson era, and now an initiative/referendum party in the present with candidates missing. Although, our efforts in the latter era have for the most part have been successful and are to be praised, we need to stop being just a mail-order business and we need to start having a store front presence, once again.

    Perhaps, the fact that many involved in Democratic politics do not have a natural bent towards a business savvy is part of the problem, but all of us in the Party need to get up to snuff on our marketability savvy and that takes salespeople or should I say candidates.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-06 15:01

    Deb, I don’t think the totals are declining across the board. The graph above just shows the rates of change, and the rate reported on Sep 1 was lower than the preceding rates, but still positive for GOP, Indies, and the total number of registered voters. Right now we’re close to the total voter registration we had for the 2008 and 2010 general elections, and we’re up 17,000 voters (about 3%) from the total voter registration we had this time last year heading into the 2014 general.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-06 20:20

    Chris, do you think those cosmetic Indies lean R more than they lean D in SD?

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-06 20:22

    Winston, I’m all for seeing some hard-headed management practices in the party. When you speak of a “full-service party… having a store-front presence,” what would that look like in our current situation with no statewide officeholders?

  14. Kim Wright 2015-09-06 22:36

    As a long-time independent I have read not only your original text but the comments of others with great interest! I hope I can successfully address some of the posted comments:
    Jerry: Independents are as informed and invested as registered Dems & Republicans, some stay home, and many are informed educated voters (however, unable to participate in the primary without party permission)
    Miller: 5x more registering as Independents–perhaps the major parties should consider what & why voters can no longer identify with EITHER party.
    Chris S: Most independent voters are not hiding their lack of party-affiliation. Actually, we are quite pleased to disclose our status as independent/non-party affiliated for many reasons!
    Only by changing the political playing field can we make a difference…it is time both parties listen to citizens and ignore special interests. We are not going away!

    Thanks, Corey for sharing this great update and inviting ALL to participate in the discussion.

  15. Kim Wright 2015-09-06 22:39

    One more important comment” THANK YOU Corey for your amazing efforts in referring SB69 to the voters—-as an independent voter, I am eternally grateful!

  16. Winston 2015-09-07 00:23

    Cory, for now it would mean making sure we have a full slate in the next election cycle; and being as equally concerned about candidates as we seem to be about revisions to our state party constitution.

    No, you are right, we do not currently have any statewide office holders. I guess we will need to dust off the pictures of George, Tom, and Tim… and Kneip, too, but what I am really suggesting is that “full service” and “storefront presence” are the by-products of our candidates winning – a reality that will only happen when we become more credible. This credibility, however, is highly dependent upon the voter noticing we have candidates across the board for all of the statewide races and they are commenting on the issues at hand.

    In the short run, this could mean we are playing the image game, but the ends justify the means in this case, in my estimation…. and perhaps we could borrow from the British party system and create designated “shadow office holders” or rely on past candidates (where we have had candidates in the past), to keep the Republican leaders in this state in check with coordinated public commentary. If they say or do something we should immediately respond.

    Thune recently spoke to a national audience from Sioux Falls in response to the President’s weekly saturday radio speech, yet the state Democratic party was silent to Thune’s comments. If we are truly serious as a party about challenging Thune in 2016, then given the current situation where Thune does not have a Democratic challenger, the state Democratic party becomes the temporary default candidate and they should have responded immediately to Thune’s comments atop the Cherapa Place building in Sioux Falls. The comments that were made by the SDDP in response to Thune were because a reporter or reporters called them not because they sent out a press release. Having a more proactive response process would do much to help our “presence” and “full-service” or duty we owe to the voters of South Dakota…. and such an act would be image, yes, but with substance or should we say facts.

  17. leslie 2015-09-07 04:27

    Ann, Suzie?

  18. Les 2015-09-07 08:25

    Full service would be providing for the needs of all, not some imaginary utopia that fits the “mold” of the six riders of the Dakota Free Press.

    Why is Trump so popular?

    How many years in prison should you get for smoking a joint, Lynn?

    The many differences we can agree to work on should be addressed and the other attitudes might start to change.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-07 09:39

    Les, we are not moldy, and I’d say there are at least seven of us. ;-)

    Winston: a full slate of candidates and a steady stream of counter-BS? Heck, that shouldn’t be so hard!

    Kim: thanks! Now can we get those Independents to get behind Bernie Sanders and other strong candidates in a way that will make other pols pay attention and change how they govern?

  20. Winston 2015-09-07 13:42

    Not if we want to consider ourselves a viable party, it shouldn’t be.

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