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Libertarians Lose Party Status, Independents Make No Progress

The only people who had a worse election night than South Dakota Democrats were South Dakota Libertarians and independents.

candidate Party Race votes total vote %
Wieczorek IND US House 7,322 335,909 2.18%
Hendrickson LIB US House 4,912 335,909 1.46%
Evans LIB Governor 4,844 339,154 1.43%
Ellis IND D-7 House 1,976 13,949 14.17%
Perpich “IND”* D-7 Senate 2,940 7,568 38.85%
Hofer “IND”** D-19 House 1,681 17,775 9.46%
Bowers IND D-19 House 1,133 17,775 6.37%
Wirth IND D-25 Senate 1,930 9,635 20.03%
Klebanoff “IND”* D-25 Senate 1,125 9,635 11.68%
Reid IND D-33 House 2,316 17,609 13.15%
Baldwin LIB D-17 House 829 13,161 6.30%
Hill LIB D-28B House 686 4,638 14.79%
Oakes LIB D-30 Senate 2,133 11,724 18.19%
Root LIB D-4 House 457 18,350 2.49%
Aylward LIB D-6 House 930 19,087 4.87%
*filed IND but actually DEM
**filed IND but actually GOP

Libertarian George Hendrickson drew only 4,912 votes for U.S. House. That’s well below Ron Wieczorek’s 7,322 votes… and when you can’t even beat the LaRouche guy, that’s gotta hurt. Still, Hendrickson managed in his four-man race to outpoll his Libertarian ticketmates Kurt Evans and Richard Shelatz, who in the three-way race for Governor and lieutenant drew only 4,844 votes.

Alas, at 1.46% and 1.43% respectively, the two statewide Libertarian candidacies fell short of the 2.5% threshold required to maintain party status. If Libertarians want their party label on the ballot in 2020, they’ll have to circulate a petition, collect 3,392 signatures from registered voters, and submit it to the Secretary of State (Steve Barnett, alas), by July 1, 2020. But look on the bright side: thanks to the passage of House Bill 1286 this year that was prompted by their successful lawsuit against South Dakota’s oppressive ballot access laws, the Libertarians have less work and more time to do it to regain party status. Under previous law, they would have had to collect 8,479 signatures and submit them by March 31, 2020.

Independents may be the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, but they are expressing no sense of loyalty to candidates who affirm their choice of political label. The only real independent who beat former Senator Larry Pressler’s third-place 17.1% statewide indy campaign was Brian Wirth, who got three votes more than 20% of the District 25 Senate vote, beating Democratic independent Peter Klebanoff, who drew less than 12%. Cory Ann Ellis was the most successful real independent in a State House race, and she only got 14.17% of the votes cast in District 7. One can argue that Ellis was the strongest outsider candidate in the state, in that the number of voters in District 7 was 7,568—see Perpich’s D-7 Senate race—and that Ellis thus got 26.11% of her district’s voters. But even under that math, Ellis underperformed compared to her district’s independent registration of 29.8%. No independent in South Dakota got the same percentage of voters as the independent registration percentage of his or her district. Independents give so little of a darn about political labels that they won’t even vote for the candidates who declare on the ballot that they best align with that apolitical orientation.

But hey, by that metric, Libertarians had a good night: their statewide candidates earned over four times their 0.34% share of the statewide electorate. The Libertarian candidates managed to get from 18.5 times (Root!) to 48.5 times (Oakes!) the percentage of voters as their districts’ percentages of registered Libertarians.

So there may be the craziest conclusion of the 2018 general election: the Libertarian brand has more appeal outside of its base than does “Independent.” But even that happy metric doesn’t keep a party alive or put anyone in office to make a difference for South Dakota.


  1. Terry Woster 2018-11-08 08:19

    People who register as independents aren’t necessarily doing that with the goal of being part of a political party. I don’t know how it’s worded these days, but when I registered, my choice was No Preference, and I’m a committed, dedicated No Preference, but I don’t think there’s enough of me to be a party, and if there were, I’d probably not join.

  2. Debbo 2018-11-08 15:29

    “Secretary of State (Steve Barnett, alas)”

    Why do you say that? Is he Gant-ish? Hyper partisan?

  3. Debbo 2018-11-08 15:41

    Democrats nationwide made A Lot of Progress.

    Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko)
    11/7/18, 10:25 AM
    290+ State leg seats flipped
    29+ House seats flipped
    7+ Gov flipped
    7 State leg chambers flipped
    4 GOP supermajorities in state legislatures broken
    4 States to expand voting rights
    3 State Supreme Court seats flipped
    3 Red states to expand Medicaid
    2 States raising the min wage

  4. Adam 2018-11-08 16:54

    One of my ‘favorite’ experiences in SD is when I knocked on doors, and talked to folks who proclaimed, “I’m an Independent!” but everything they spoke wreaked of conservatardisms. So, I routinely asked them if they had EVER voted for anyone other than a Republican, and the answer was ALWAYS, “no.”

    In SD, Independent means, “Me thinks me smart but me dumb as rock.”

  5. grudznick 2018-11-08 17:43

    Ms. Geelsdottir, I have not heard that young Mr. Barnett has a case of the Gants. But grudznick could be wrong.

    The Libertarian party has no one to blame but Mr. Evans, who did not choose grudznick as his running mate. I would have got him enough additional votes to keep the party in status. Let that be a lesson to you, Libertarian convention goers.

  6. Debbo 2018-11-08 20:46

    Adam, I’ve heard that too, from straight ticket R voters.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-08 22:23

    Alas, I say, Debbo, because Barnett is a Republican seat-swapper, moving from State Auditor to Secretary of State not because he is moved to serve the public, not because he has a deep knowledge of election and a keen passion for voter rights and smoothly executed elections, but because he just doesn’t want to look for a different job outside of state government. Barnett promises no change, and certainly no more watchdoggery over Republican corruption than he provided in eight years as auditor during EB-5 and GEAR UP.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-08 22:25

    Your observation, Adam, fits with what I take from the numbers above: real independents are not a force in South Dakota elections. They certainly don’t seem to be a fertile field for Democratic votes.

  9. Kurt Evans 2018-11-08 22:42

    “grudznick” writes:

    The Libertarian party has no one to blame but Mr. Evans, who did not choose grudznick as his running mate. I would have got him enough additional votes to keep the party in status.

    Richard Shelatz was a brilliant tactical choice for lieutenant governor. Of our ticket’s 4,844 votes, 738 came from his home county.

    Pennington (ha ha).

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