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Summer Purge: 3% of South Dakota Voters Disappear

August was voter purge month, when the Secretary of State knocks voters who haven’t showed up at the polls recently from “Active” to “Inactive.” The September 1, 2017, South Dakota voter registration tally shows 11,762 voters—2.14% of the August 1 total—removed from Active status and 11,450 newly Inactive voters. This one-month purge restocks the Inactive pool, which the Secretary of State has whittled down over the last 18 months from a March 2016 peak of 54,708 to an August 2017 low of 30,619. Inactives now total 42,069.

The total number of voters on the books, Active + Inactive, actually increased from the general election through June 2017 from 595,126 to 597,856, thanks to increased voter registration. That total is now back down to 579,544. Thus, in three months, the Secretary of State managed to scrub 3.06% of the names on the voter rolls.

Looking just at Active voters and using the 2.14% August purge rate as the baseline, Democrats got purged harder than Republicans:

Party 9/1/2017 change since Aug 1 change since 2016 general election change since Dem peak Jul 2009
Democrats 163,830 –2.63% –4.02% –20.50%
Republicans 249,085 –1.87% –1.20% +2.60%
Independents 121,641 –2.01% +2.50% +40.94%
Total Active 537,475 –2.14% –1.28% +0.17%

I have no more detailed data upon which to make conclusions, but the greater drop for Democrats in the August purge may be explained by these hypotheses:

  1. Not voting: With a lack of competitive candidates, Democrats have been more likely to sit out elections over the last four years than Republicans and independents; thus, Democrats have fallen onto the Inactive list or off the rolls completely at a higher rate.
  2. Not sticking with the party: Perhaps South Dakota Democrats have seen Donald Trump’s common-sense- and Christianity-defying 57% approval rate in our fair state and changed their registration to keep from getting their houses egged.
  3. Not sticking with the state: People are more likely to move if they feel their political beliefs don’t fit with their neighbors. Outnumbered now almost 3 to 2 statewide, Democrats are more likely to leave South Dakota than Republicans.
  4. Not in charge of the purge: The Secretary of State is a Republican running for Congress. When she pulls up the list of voters whom the state hasn’t heard from for a while, it wouldn’t be hard to sort that list by party and start with the Democrats first.

Those are all maybes, not for-sures. And the truth of one or more of those maybes doesn’t change what Democrats need to do: run good candidates on good issues for every office on every ballot (including a real election hawk for Secretary of State) to motivate more South Dakotans to register and vote Democratic.


  1. Mr. Lansing 2017-09-02 11:00

    I’ll conclude, with certainty. People who vote the way we think aren’t joiners!! We’re like cats. Most of the time you don’t even know we’re around. But given an issue, a candidate or an egregious scandal and we vote in the majority. We’re not much interested in being part of a political party just as the majority of Christians in South Dakota aren’t interested in being active in a church. We passed IM22 and we kicked loan sharks out of town. Don’t think we aren’t here, just because we keep our positions to ourselves.

  2. mike from iowa 2017-09-02 13:21

    What’s the time frame for not voting that gets you demoted? If you have mentioned it before, my apologies.

  3. Porter Lansing 2017-09-02 13:59

    Register as unaffiliated and vote by mail. Scares the hell out of the social conservatives … but anything new always does. Coming soon to a South Dakota near you.
    – I’ve already heard it said that the mailman might steal your ballot. lol Mail in ballots can have a bar code on the envelope that’s scanned at the post office when it’s received and on down the line until it’s opened and counted. I get three emails.
    PS … research has shown that mail in ballots don’t favor Democrats, as is feared by the easily scared. Also, research shows that more people vote. Voting at the kitchen table with family members is a new tradition. Try it. Don’t be afraid. New things are good things. 👍

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-03 07:03

    Porter, if keeping their positions to themselves includes not voting on them, then for practical electoral purposes, they aren’t there. If mail-in ballots get them back to expressing their views with check marks at election time, I’m all for it.

    Mike, I believe its four years of not voting moves a voter to Inactive, then another four moves them off. But I’m checking with the SOS, whose office is closed ’til Tuesday.

  5. grudznick 2017-09-03 08:06

    Mr. H, we know that Ms. Krebs reads your bloggings as she destroyed that phone program made with tax dollars that pointed people right to her campaign. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she doesn’t read this and march an employee right into the office to open it up and answer your question. She is, of course, running for election.

  6. mike from iowa 2017-09-03 08:14

    Its South Dakota, Grudz. She is a wingnut. No need to run anything but a candidate’s mouth in a safe, embarrassingly red state.

  7. Robert Munro 2017-09-05 11:56

    “Purging” inactive voters is a nationwide rigging scheme, er, practice that needs to be supplemented with a mandatory “none of the above” option on the ballot and a requirement that until voter registration is notified that a citizen has died, or is otherwise defined as ineligible, that citizen should remain on the rolls.

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