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22 Statistical Observations on South Dakota’s Statewide Votes

I’ve dumped the county-by-county vote totals for our statewide ballot questions and candidates into a single spreadsheet and run some numbers. Beyond the fact that two flimsy measures passed and Democrats won nothing, what do the numbers tell us?

  1. The only “Vote No on Everything” county was Ziebach County. (Grudznick must have a hunting cabin near Dupree.) Ziebach didn’t cast the biggest No vote on any one ballot measure, but it outnayed the statewide average on Amendment Z (single-subject rule for amendments) by 13 percentage points, on Initiated Measure 24 (no out-of-state money for ballot question campaigns) by 11 points, and on IM 25 (tobacco tax for vo-techs) by 15 points.
  2. No county said Yes to everything, but Clay County voters are easy: they approved four ballot measures, all but X (55% to pass amendments).
  3. Four counties said yes to three measures. Yankton, Pennington, and Lawrence approved W (Anti-Corruption and Voter Protection Act), 24, and 25. Lincoln also dug Z and 24 but dropped W and chose 25.
  4. IM 25 won two counties: Lincoln and Clay.
  5. X won three counties: Buffalo, McPherson, and Union.
  6. W won five counties: Yankton, Pennington, Oglala Lakota, Lawrence, and Clay.
  7. IM 24 won 36 counties, including most of the most populous counties. The biggest county IM 24 lost was Hughes.
  8. Z won in 65 counties, all but the VNOE crew in Ziebach.
  9. Our contrarian friends in Ziebach also ran against the statewide grain on candidates, voting a straight Democratic ticket on the statewide offices.
  10. Ziebach was one of seven counties to vote straight Democratic. The others: Todd, Oglala Lakota, Dewey, Corson, Buffalo, and (the only Dem county not in Indian Country) Clay.
  11. Billie Sutton won 22 counties, exactly a third.
  12. Randy Seiler won 13 counties. The only county he won that Sutton didn’t was his home county of Stanley.
  13. Aaron Matson was the only other Democrat to win any other county besides the seven straight-ticketers. Matson beat Treasurer-Elect Josh Haeder in Roberts County by 37 votes, 50.5% to 49.5%.
  14. The only Democrats to win their home county were Alexandra and Wayne Frederick, who polled 78% and 80%, respectively, among their Okreek neighbors in Todd County.
  15. Correlations among candidates of the two major parties were generally strong and consistent: where one Dem did better, generally all Dems tended to do better, and likewise for ‘Pubs.
  16. While correlations within the Dem and GOP tickets were solid (up around 0.95, on a scale from 0 to 1), the correlation of county votes for the two Libertarians on the ballot was a relatively low 0.47.
    1. In other words, the fact that a county voted for George Hendrickson for U.S. House doesn’t predict that the same county voted for Kurt Evans for Governor nearly as strongly as, say, a county vote for Republican Dusty Johnson predicts a vote for Kristi Noem or as a county vote for Sutton predicts a vote for Seiler.
    2. In other other words, Hendrickson and Evans appealed to somewhat different sets of voters.
      1. Both Libertarians counted Pennington, Meade, Lawrence, Fall River, Butte, Mellette, Jones, and Lyman (all West River) among their top fifteen counties.
      2. Evans’s seven other top-15 counties were all small rural places: Bennett, Aurora, Deuel, Jackson, Sully, Hand, and Walworth.
      3. Hendrickson found strength in bigger places and Indian Country: Minnehaha, Brookings, Grant, Ziebach, Oglala Lakota, Perkins, and Dewey.
  17. Perhaps more tellingly, Hendrickson correlated positively with Democratic candidates, while Evans correlated negatively. The correlations were weak, but in every case but Seiler, Hendrickson’s positives were stronger than Evans’s negatives.
  18. LaRouche independent Ron Wieczorek had stronger positive correlations with Democratic candidates. Dems, I’m thinking we need to get that out of our system.
  19. The only ballot question with any strong partisan correlation was W. County votes for W correlated positively with votes for Democratic candidates (min: Randy Seiler, 0.51; max: Tim Bjorkman, 0.61).
  20. The correlations on the three Republican measures trying to weaken initiative and referendum, while all very weak, were strangely mixed.
    1. X had a faint positive correlation with most Democratic candidates and a faint negative correlation with most Republican candidates.
    2. Z had weaker correlations, leaning negative with Dems and positive with ‘Pubs.
    3. IM 24 had similarly weaker correlations than X’s faint figures, but the pattern tended toward faint positives among Dem counties and faint negatives among GOP counties
    4. IM 25 had the strongest (and this is relative, still none stronger that ±0.16) correlations, with a slight tendency for Dem counties to vote against the tax increase and vo-tech funding and GOP counties to vote for. Slight, but an interesting opposition to the standard partisan slogans that would portray Dems as the party of higher taxes and investments in education.
  21. Among the ballot questions, the strongest correlation (0.90!) was between Yes on Z and Yes on 24 (which makes sense, since both passed). The next strongest correlations were Yes 24 and Yes W (0.72), Yes Z and Yes W (0.61) and Yes 24 and Yes 25 (0.60).
  22. The only negative correlation among ballot measures was a weak tendency for counties that went Yes on X to go No on 25 (–0.10). Otherwise, a Yes on one ballot measure seemed to predict a Yes vote on others.

Study the data here yourself, and tell me if you find any patterns of interest.


  1. Tim A 2018-11-09 09:47

    It was interesting to see Hughes County vote Democrat for governor, I’m not a historian though so I’m unsure if this has always been the case. You would think with the number of state employees residing in Pierre you would have a strong republican vote. Do people in Pierre prefer Sutton over Noem? It would appear so.

  2. Sam@ 2018-11-09 10:57

    South Dakotans are not buying what Democratic Party is selling.

    The open borders issue with the Caravans and the Supreme Court Justice hearings hurt democrats all the way to the local level.

    National Democratic Party behaving in a constant non-civil manner made
    Very difficult at any level to vote
    For a dem.

    Had it to Trump-Pence they save

  3. TAG 2018-11-09 12:48


    Thanks for compiling that spreadsheet. I might to an analysis in the future on that, but here is something related to that, which I got from the District results on the Sec of State page:

    Since we have multiple-member districts in the state legislature, simply switching to Ranked-choice voting yields dramatic results in the House:

    New Senate R/D ratio: 30-5 (86% R)
    Senate ratio with RCV: 30-5 (86% R)

    New House R/S ratio: 60-10 (86% R)
    House ratio with RCV: 47-23 (67% R)

    This would not only produce a much more proportional representation in the House, but provide minority Dems in some more competitive districts throughout the state with a voice in government, instead of relying on a handful of blue districts.

    Interestingly, simply choosing to run one Democratic candidate, and not splitting the vote, yields very similar results. In districts that are 60% + republican, running one Dem would be smarter. below that should run two, and above 66% should run a very moderate Dem. I can give specific examples for districts, if you are interested.

  4. TAG 2018-11-09 13:10

    Here are the districts that would have added a Dem seat in the House using RCV (or just running one Dem):
    2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 11, 12, 20, 25, 32, 34, 35

    Here are the districts that had a 50/50 shot at adding a Dem in the House:
    6, 7, 31

    Here are the districts that had a 50/50 shot at adding a Repub in the House:

    Here are the districts that would have added a Rebub in the House:

    Here are the districts where a 3rd party would have had a major role in the outcome, using 2nd choices (would have still been a R or D):
    6, 7

    Here are the districts where RCV would have easily avoided a recount:
    9, 25

    I’m happy to explain any of these races in more detail. Corey, in your district, Carl and Drew did not receive 33%+1 majorities, and basically won with a plurality. Under RCV, tallying the votes would go to a second round, eliminating Justin with 18% of the 1st choice votes. All those that voted for him would have their votes re-allocated to 2nd choice preference. Assuming most would vote for Brooks, the other Dem, that would push him above 33%+1. Because Drew was only 1% below a majority, only a few of Justin’s voters could push him over the line. So Drew and Brooks would have won.

    Because 42% of the people in the District voted for you, having one R and one D in the House makes sense. It’s only in districts that are 33% or less Democrat where you should expect to have two Republican Representatives, as opposed to about 45% or less now. Clear as mud?

  5. TAG 2018-11-09 13:17

    Would it be legal for the Democrats in a district to basically run a primary to decide which one Democrat to run, rather than running two all the time? It would make a huge difference, IMO.

  6. Curt 2018-11-09 13:47

    I have been studying the Pennington County results in the gubernatorial contest. Sutton lost the county by roughly 5000 votes, but lost within the city limits of RC by about 200. County-wide the percentages were Noem 55, Sutton 43. Within RC, it rounds to 50/50 with Noem at 50.4 and Sutton 49.5 (leaving aside the Evans votes). Sutton carried 11 precincts in RC (and tied one) while Noem won every Pennington Co precinct outside the city.
    I am drawing no conclusions from these observations … still pondering and scratching my head.

  7. TAG 2018-11-09 14:03

    Now that I think about it, running one Dem doesn’t increase your chances of winning in the current system, (since you can’t vote twice for the same candidate) but it DOES allow for some control over the Rebublican representative. Basically it would moderate the choice of republican. A moderate R would have a much better chance of winning than an extreme-right choice, or a wildly unqualified choice. Basically it allows strategic voting to prevent very poor Republican candidates.

  8. ACB 2018-11-09 14:12

    Hi. Hughes County here. We worked our tails off on the ground to get those votes for Billie. Hughes did go for Jackley, so I think we had some stronger GOP support than in other areas but we knocked doors, called phones, and generally got the vote out for Sutton.

  9. Debbo 2018-11-09 15:38

    Sam@ said, “National Democratic Party behaving in a constant non-civil manner.”


  10. mike from iowa 2018-11-09 15:45

    How did the Scotus hearings hurt Dems? They did not block a nominee from either a hearing or an up or down vote like wingnuts did when they refused Obama’s Scotus pick either. Merrick Garland was hand picked by Orrin Hatch as a moderate who could be easily confirmed by crooked, dishonest ingrate wingnuts.

    Kavernmouth perjured himself in his Senate hearings and Dems are gonna investigate that soon after they take control on Congress. Hell for that matter, Sessions erjured himself in at least 2 occasions in front odfthe Senate and others in Drumpf’s cabinet did likewise.

    Wingnut revised history gets tiresome fast.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-09 18:35

    So, Sam@, when do South Dakota Republicans face consequences for things their national leader is saying and doing? When does the SDGOP face the music for Dan Lederman’s uncivil language and Larry Rhoden’s bullying?

    And when have South Dakota Democrats ever advocated open borders?

    This is why we Democrats lost Tuesday: we keep talking about South Dakota facts, while Republicans vote on national-news fantasy.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-09 18:41

    Interesting math and assumptions, TAG. District 1 seems to suggest that running one candidate in a strong district for the other party may improve that opposition party’s chances of winning a seat… but I think other factors than mere math propelled Tamara St. John to a first-place finish… factors that the SDDP had better go figure out and counter-program, lest we Dems surrender one of our last strongholds.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-09 18:42

    ACB, thank you for that work. I’d love to get numbers on calling and knocking in each county and run that data in the correlation spreadsheet.

  14. Sam@ 2018-11-09 21:46


    It was the coat tails of bad behavior nationally. Many republicans who needed to cross over fro Billy just could not vote for any Democrat at any level. You are correct policy wise has nothing to do with DC.

    Coat tails run in a lot of ways.

    South Dakota Democrat’s where punished because of party affliation.

    Hand to Trump Pence they got the base out.

  15. Debbo 2018-11-09 21:53

    Sam@, “bad behavior nationally.”

    What bad behavior nationally? What? If you’re going to make accusations, you need to back them up with facts, not vague generalizations.

  16. OldSarg 2018-11-10 06:04

    Debbo, I think Sam is right. The state democrats can be the nicest folks alive but being aligned with the national democrat party is a burden that clearly could not be overcome for even a nice cowboy like Sutton.

    Look at Tag’s numbers:
    New Senate R/D ratio: 30-5 (86% R)
    Senate ratio with RCV: 30-5 (86% R)

    New House R/S ratio: 60-10 (86% R)
    House ratio with RCV: 47-23 (67% R)

    A vote for Sutton would not have changed this, and yes I understand Sutton had a great turnout but, why would more people not have voted for a cowboy that expressed conservative values while still running under the democrat label? I have said it before: Sutton could have been the greatest man alive but running as a democrat is seen as associating with radicals. The media didn’t make the national democrats radical, the people didn’t do it and the republicans didn’t do it so only one group is left: The party did it to themselves and the is what sunk Billie’s chances. He should have run as a republican and he would have won.

  17. TAG 2018-11-10 09:10

    I think that there is one small problem with the idea that Billie should have just run as a Republican. He Sees himself as a Democrat. He chose that party because, despite having a diverse set of beliefs, (which more people should try), he feels that his core beliefs align more with Democrats. He believes deeply in investing in education, transparency in government, and working for the middle class and working class. The fact that he rejects the label of Republican, having those core beliefs, is more a poor reflection on Republicans than Democrats, IMHO

  18. Clyde 2018-11-10 09:15

    I’m afraid that OS is right. The national Dem party have done themselves in and having Pelosi as the new speaker is only going to hurt them more. Trump is a shoe in in 20. He will get more chances to stack the supreme court.

    To me the SD election results show just how under informed and misinformed the electorate is in this state. Perhaps speaks to our long running low teacher pay as well!

    BTW, I’m a liberal!

  19. TAG 2018-11-10 09:27

    Furthermore, Billie would have had no chance in h@ll in a Republican primary in 2018. Moderate conservatives got absolutely killed in the polls this year. You are either a Trump guy or you are out in the red states.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-10 20:10

    Actual bad behavior from national Dems, Sam@, or just the demonizing fantasies that the SDGOP concocts to keep people refighting the id-wars of the 2016 election?

    Debbo’s right; we’re still not getting examples to support the claim.

  21. jerry 2018-11-10 20:42

    Without a full throated defense of healthcare, you get beaten like a pinata. Someone needs to come up through the ranks and grab that bull by the horns. Who will it be? The two guys that ran for governor and the house, were pretty damn quiet about it. Ya ain’t gonna win without telling people how you are gonna solve their issues, because you understand them. NOem voted 70 times to screw over the people of South Dakota and basically got a pass for doing so, that is good politicking on her part, to keep the stank under the rug. Sutton should have had his “neighbors” come out and tell the truth about how badly they are getting screwed because of NOem’s handiwork.

    Next up is the senate run in 2020, who is gonna be up to the task of taking on Mike Rounds? Will it be someone who refuses to take pac money? If so, they should stay home and let someone who wants to win it, win. First thing out of the chute, fix the rural economy. It can be done with someone who is willing to go up against the trench’s of the good old boy network by pointing out the complete failures of where we are right now. Close second, healthcare for the elderly and protection of Social Security. There ya go ladies, it will take a woman to win it as they seem to be the ones who can dedicate themselves to the task.

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