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Partisan Primaries Mean 9% of SD Voters Get No Say in Sheriff’s Election

Out of 66 counties where candidates filed to run for sheriff this year, 39 had just one candidate for the job. Two counties—Todd and Hand—had no one file for sheriff. That’s 41 counties out of 66, where there will be no election for sheriff this year. 248,036 registered voters in those counties—46.91% of South Dakota’s active electorate as of May 1—will not vote for sheriff this year.

In the 25 counties where there is competition to be top cop, eleven counties constituting 179,640 voters—33.97% of the statewide electorate—will get to pick their sheriff at the general election.

But in fourteen counties with contested sheriff’s races, the candidates are members of a single party. Thus, those fourteen sheriff’s races will be decided at the June 5 primary, only by the subset of voters in each county that is eligible to vote in that primary. In thirteen of those counties, the candidates are all Republican, so only Republicans will pick the sheriff. In one county, Oglala Lakota, the two candidates are Democrats, so only Democrats and independents will be able to cast ballots for them on June 5.

Thus, in this year’s sheriff’s races, our closed partisan primary rules disenfranchise 47,573 registered voters, 9.00% of South Dakota’s electorate.

That, my friends, is why I support an open top-two primary and regret that Joe Kirby and De Knudson didn’t get enough signatures to place their constitutional amendment to that effect on this year’s ballot. Short of that reform, that disenfranchisement makes me support making races for county offices, including sheriff, non-partisan, as we do with city and school board elections, in which every voter gets to choose from among all candidates, without regard to party affiliation.


  • Counties picking sheriff at general election (# of candidates by party affiliation):
    1. Bennett (1 DEM, 1 GOP)
    2. Custer (2 IND, 2 GOP)
    3. Day (1 DEM, 1 IND, 1 GOP
    4. Jones (1 NPA, 2 GOP)
    5. Lincoln (1 IND, 3 GOP)
    6. Marshall (2 DEM, 1 GOP)
    7. Mellette (2 IND)
    8. Miner (3 IND)
    9. Minnehaha (1 IND, 1 GOP)
    10. Moody (2 IND)
    11. Union (1 IND, 1 GOP)
  • Counties picking sheriff at partisan primary:
    1. Bon Homme (2 GOP)
    2. Brown (2 GOP)
    3. Codington (2 GOP)
    4. Deuel (2 GOP)
    5. Fall River (2 GOP)
    6. Faulk (2 GOP)
    7. Hamlin (2 GOP)
    8. Jackson (2 GOP)
    9. Kingsbury (2 GOP)
    10. Meade (2 GOP)
    11. Oglala Lakota (2 DEM)
    12. Roberts (2 GOP)
    13. Spink (3 GOP)
    14. Turner (2 GOP)


  1. Debbo 2018-05-07

    California seems to be happy with their “jungle primaries.” Well, GOP maybe not so much because there are sometimes general elections pitting two Democrats against one another. California ought to just go to RCV a dispense with primaries.

    When you say “open primaries” however, you’re referring to voters, not candidates, right?

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-08

    What I mean, Debbo, is this:

    1. All candidates of all parties go on one primary ballot.
    2. All voters get to vote on that ballot on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
    3. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election.

    I’m open to simplifying that system with a single general election ballot and winners chosen by ranked choice voting. However, I think a situation like the Sioux Falls mayoral contest, where the top two vote getters got three weeks to go head to head and voters got to see those two candidates going head to head, may be superior. Six people on stage can make it harder to sort out priorities. Winnowing the field to top two, then letting voters compare those two head to head, may yield clearer choices.

  3. Jason 2018-05-08


    SD rejected that at the polls.

    It’s not the Republicans fault no Dems are running.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-08

    No, SD voters rejected a different proposal that included removing party labels from the ballot. An open top-two primary does not require removing party labels… although I certainly wouldn’t mind doing so. SD also didn’t specifically reject making county elections nonpartisan.

  5. Jason 2018-05-08


    The SD Democrats you are talking about don’t have a choice to vote for a Democrat because a Democrat didn’t run.

    It seems you should look within your party before going on about nonpartisan elections.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-08

    What happens within my own party should not enfranchise or disenfranchise tens of thousands of citizens who have registered D or I any more than what happens in the Republican Party should disenfranchise citizens who have registered R.

    In Oglala County, where the two candidates for sheriff are both Democrats, all registered voters, including Republicans, Libertarians, Constitutionists, and others, should get to vote.

  7. Jason 2018-05-08

    I disagree Cory.

    It’s the Republicans problem they didn’t have a Republican Sheriff run.

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