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SDDP Chair Candidate Renville Exaggerates Case for Racism in 2018 Election Results

The Brown County Democrats hosted a forum for candidates for South Dakota Democratic Party chair last night at the beautiful K.O. Lee Public Library in downtown Aberdeen. My 2,800+ words’ worth of notes provide fodder for multiple blog posts and perhaps cogitation by the several dozen voting members of the SDDP State Central Committee who will show up in Oacoma Saturday to elect their next chair.

Allison Renville, charging racism among Sutton voters, SDDP chair candidates' forum, Aberdeen, SD, 2019.03.20.
Allison Renville, charging racism among Sutton voters, SDDP chair candidates’ forum, Aberdeen, SD, 2019.03.20.

I would like to focus here on one claim made by chair candidate Allison Renville, of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. A centerpiece of Renville’s campaign for chair is that the South Dakota Democratic Party needs to address South Dakota’s racism and prejudice by electing leaders more representative of Indians, young people, non-aligned progressives, and others who could provide vital support to Democratic goals.

Last night Renville said evidence of South Dakota’s racism lies in the fact that 50,000 South Dakotans who voted for Billie Sutton for Governor in 2018 couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the two Native American candidates standing with Sutton on the statewide ballot.

Renville’s claim overstates the evidence of racism in the 2018 election returns.

Sutton was indeed the most popular Democratic candidate for Governor in this century, and his opponent, Kristi Noem, was the least popular. However, Sutton’s relatively effective (read: not as big a failure as his predecessors’) campaign failed to spill over and boost any Democrat, Indian, white, or otherwise.

2018 statewide candidate votes for total vote votes against vote %
Sutton 161,171 338,715 177,544 47.58%
Bjorkman 120,816 335,471 214,655 36.01%
A. Frederick 112,601 323,399 210,798 34.82%
Seiler 145,219 324,160 178,941 44.80%
Cool 113,418 315,224 201,806 35.98%
Matson 117,549 312,331 194,782 37.64%
Houser 116,588 309,782 193,194 37.64%
W. Frederick 108,740 314,915 206,175 34.53%
avg 124,513 321,750 197,237 38.70%
avg non-Sutton 119,276 319,326 200,050 37.35%
avg white non-Sutton 122,718 319,394 196,676 38.42%
avg Indian 110,671 319,157 208,487 34.68%

Alexandra and Wayne Frederick certainly suffered the greatest drop-off from Sutton’s total, 48,570 and 52,431, respectively.

However, the average drop-off from Sutton’s total for all seven non-Sutton statewide Democratic candidates was 41,895. The only statewide Democratic candidate who did not lose more than 40,000 Sutton voters was Randy Seiler, who campaigned at least as hard as Tim Bjorkman, faced an idiot for an opponent, and lost only 15,952 Sutton voters. On average, 22,080 voters who cast gubernatorial votes did not bother to vote for any statewide candidate below that line.

From this evidence, no one can assert that 50,000 Sutton voters were too racist to vote for Indian candidates on the same ballot. The vast majority of that drop-of is explained by relative effectiveness of campaigns of Democrats and their opponents, the dominance of the Republican brand, and the inattention of voters to second-tier races (quick question: how many voters even knew what the candidates for Secretary of State and Public Utilities Commission looked like?).

There is most certainly racism in South Dakota. Alexandra and Wayne Frederick experienced that racism on the campaign trail. Racism likely cost the Fredericks votes that some of their white Democratic ticketmates won. But the fact that four out of five Sutton voters who snubbed the Lakota Fredericks also rebuffed their white Democratic ticketmates indicates that much of the Sutton drop-off is more simply and logically explained by electoral factors other than racism.

Related Stats: Alexandra Frederick won 48,570 fewer votes than Sutton. Tom Cool won 47,753 fewer votes than Sutton. Frederick and Cool are running as a team for SDDP vice-chair and chair.


  1. Kal Lis 2019-03-21 07:54

    Renville didn’t make it down to the Yankton event. This post makes me wish she had. I think sparks may have flown a bit when Cunningham questioned why there is a dedicated staff member for the reservations.

    2800 words of notes? They must have had more Q&A and longer speech times than they had at the Yankton event.

  2. Frank James 2019-03-21 14:16

    It seems to me both statements are opinions. I am sure racism had some impact on the elections. And I’m sure the campaigns could have been run better. Probably due to a lack of funding. Alex and Wayne are excellent candidates and should have been widely supported. I also think Allison is a good choice for the Chair of the Democratic Party. We need something new to happen in the party and she would help it happen.

  3. Debbo 2019-03-21 16:01

    She’s right that the SDDP ought to elect more leadership that is Indians, young people and nonaligned progressives. I’d add other POC to that too. Huron has a large Latinx neighborhood.

    With the Democratic Party numbers in SD as low as they are, the SDDP needs to reach out to liberals/progressives who are not registered Democrats. SD has a high number of independents who could be a source of votes.

    The SDDP needs to look like the people they want to reach.

  4. Adam 2019-03-22 00:47

    SDDP needs a lot more than just a lively Native community to succeed, it needs to also make a lot more/better sense to white people accross South Dakota.

    In the eyes of the country folk, all Democrats have figurative brown skin and should be treated accordingly.

  5. leslie 2019-03-22 04:21

    50,000 voters. 90,000 more voters came out in 2018. Renville knows granite sculptured Teddy Roosevelt was a racist. Do those 90,000 know? She would make sure they do. She has much to learn, is very young, and motivated. Those 90,000 voters could swing the 2020 vote BLUE.

    Kennedy is focused on this math. He is older. A McGovern Democrat. Political. Sells/sold insurance. Part time / retired.

    Paula Hawks, a state Rep, ran against Kristi for Congress and lost by 105,000 votes. An opptomist.

    We know Ann has been unsuccessful/ineffective.

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