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Amendment C: Opponents Must Make at Least 65K Calls, Triple Expected Non-Republican Turnout to Beat GOP Election-Rigging

Early voting started in South Dakota Friday. Every registered South Dakota voter can thus go to the courthouse and cast a ballot against Amendment C, the sneaky Republican ploy to undermine our initiative power by allowing plutocratic minorities to block certain ballot measures, and every eligible South Dakotan who isn’t registered can go see the county auditor, register to vote, and cast a ballot against Amendment C. (Voters can also cast ballots for Amendment C, but why anyone would want to vote for minority rule is beyond me.)

The challenge for folks like me who want to protect direct democracy and beat Amendment C is getting enough sensible voters to participate in a special election timed to coincide with the Republican primary, which is dominated by the most rabidly right-wing Republicans in the electorate, the kinds of folks easily duped by corporate anti-tax, anti-government propaganda, even though those folks should logically support initiative and referendum as a useful check on big government and the corporate special interests that exploit their special access to centralized government.

So how many sensible voters will it take to beat Amendment C? How many Republicans usually show up for a South Dakota primary?

Let’s look at the turnout from the last four primaries in South Dakota:

*as of April 1, 2022.
Primary: 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022
Dem President 53,006 52,661
GOP President 66,879
GOP Senate 74,498 93,529 yes
GOP House 100,711 93,275 yes
Dem Governor 27,594
GOP Governor 74,213 102,772 yes
Ballot Measure 133,946 yes
Democratic registration 175,454 168,301 156,354 154,311 151,984*
GOP registration 235,770 243,523 249,986 261,598 282,255*
Independent/unaffiliated registration 96,471 110,039 121,570 130,187 144,862*
Total registration 509,533 524,498 530,890 549,369 579,101*
Dem/Ind turnout 15.73% 12.87% 12.66%
GOP turnout 31.60% 27.46% 41.11% 35.75%
Total turnout 20.11% 22.97% 25.23% 26.77%

Guessing how many voters may participate the 2022 statewide June election based on turnout in previous primaries is complicated by the fact that the combination of contests on the 2022 statewide June ballot—GOP primaries for US Senate, US House, and SD governor, plus one ballot measure on which all South Dakotans may vote—does not match the combinations in any of the four previous June votes.

I’m tempted to say we should focus on the mid-term elections of 2014 and 2018 rather than the Presidential election years of 2016 and 2020. Presidential elections focus more voters’ attention and tend to drive higher turnout. But of the last four primaries, the one with the lowest Republican turnout (27.46%) was 2016, the only year in which Republicans had a Presidential contest. The highest Republican turnout (41.11%) came in 2018, when Republicans had barnburners for open seats in both the U.S. House (Dusty Johnson vs. Shantel Krebs vs. Neal Tapio) and the Governor’s office (Kristi Noem vs. Marty Jackley).

But in 2022, we don’t have primaries for open seats. The three Republican primaries involve challenges to popular and well-funded incumbents (Senator John Thune vs. Bruce Whalen vs. Mark Mowry; Rep. Dusty Johnson vs. Taffy Howard; Gov. Kristi Noem vs. Steve Haugaard). None of the 2022 GOP challengers has shown any break-out potential. In 2018, Noem and Johnson both faced formidable challenges from popular party figures (Jackley and Krebs) who held statewide office and could mobilize lots of voters. None of this year’s GOP challengers have the same in-party popularity or statewide recognition; they are more likely to repeat the sub-20% results and lower turnout of the 2014 primary also-rans (Larry Rhoden, Stace Nelson, Annette Bosworth, and Jason Ravnsborg, who divided the opposition vote in the U.S. Senate primary and were crushed by a majority voting for money machine and former Governor Mike Rounds; and Lora Hubbel, who got less than a fifth of the gubernatorial vote against incumbent Dennis Daugaard).

While a lack of competitive primary races may drive GOP turnout closer to 2014 results, Amendment C itself may draw more Republicans to the polls. Americans for Prosperity has been churning out get-out-the-vote propaganda since September to make sure all Republicans know its their duty to Saint Ronald Reagan to get out and vote against taxes and spending and democracy. I will speculate that ballot measures won’t draw Republicans to the polls with the same enthusiasm as smiling candidates promising God, guns, and glory.

Thus, I’m going to average the 2014 and 2018 GOP turnouts, giving the 2014 turnout double weight, and project that GOP turnout for the 2022 special election will be 34.77%. Out of the 282,255 Republicans registered to vote as of April 1, that will mean 98,137 Republicans voting on June 7. 80% of them will vote for Amendment C. Thus, Republican primary voters will give Amendment C 78,509 yeas and 19,627 nays. If we want to beat Amendment C, we have to close a 58,882-vote gap.

So how do we project Democratic and independent turnout?

In 2018, the only other instance in which a ballot measure has been put to a special vote at primary time, the total vote on Amendment Y was 133,946. That’s 31,174 more votes than were cast in the marquee Republican tilt between Noem and Jackley. I know it doesn’t work out this neatly, but let’s assume all of those votes were from Democrats, independents, Libertarians, and others excluded from the closed GOP primary. With no primary races on the June 2018 ballot, only 11.10% of non-Republican voters showed up just to vote on one constitutional amendment. That same percentage applied to this month’s count of non-Republican voters would produce 32,943 additional voters on Amendment C on June 7. Even if they all voted No on C, that still wouldn’t be enough to beat the Republican vote for C.

I’m going to assume that, properly educated and motivated (Another Republican attack on your rights! Minority rule is not cool! Defend Democracy!), non-Republican voters would break 80–20 against Amendment C. With that split, the non-Republican vote on C would go 6,589 for and 26,355 against. That vote would chip away only a third of the Republican gap, leaving Amendment C with a 39,116 yes-vote margin. To close the rest of the gap, we’d have to triple 2018’s non-Republican turnout. We’d have to get a total of 98,138 non-Republicans to come to the polls, 65,196 more than voted on Amendment Y in 2018.

Left to Republican devices, Amendment C would pass on June 7 by about 59,000 votes. The organic non-GOP turnout predicted by the June 2018 vote on Amendment C would only close a third of that gap. Thus, folks working against Amendment C (South Dakotans for Fair Elections, Dakotans for Health…) need to get more than 65,000 non-Republican voters who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered to vote in this June’s election to come pick up a special election and vote on Amendment C.


  1. Mark Anderson 2022-04-25

    Republicans cheat. It’s simple, its the Eddie Haskell thing in their party. They do it all the time, so what’s expected of them is moved also. It’s mental praxis for the idiots. They get used to it over time. Winning is everything, cheating and trickery don’t bother them at all.
    It all comes down to Democrats and Independents, maybe even the dope smoking Republicans meeting in Chamberlain to get out and out vote them.

  2. Mark Anderson 2022-04-25

    You know Cory, maybe you could build bridges with them. On their own they let the bridges fall down.

  3. Arlo Blundt 2022-04-25

    Well…Cory, you’ve done a lot of math and deductive thinking….it gets down to how doctrinaire the Republican Primary voter is…how strictly do they follow the Party line?? Frankly, in my opinion, the Party constantly promotes the concept of Minority Rule, seen in everything from the Gerrymander to Trump’s attempt to become President through a treasonous seizure of the office. Overturning the will of the people is nothing new for this bunch. It’s what they do best.

  4. grudznick 2022-04-25

    Do not confuse the treasonous machinations of Mr. Trump, Mr. Blundt, with the legal gerrymandering and legal responsibility of the setting of the voting districts. They are unrelated, and supported by different sorts of fellows.

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