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SD Voters Get to Pick Sheriff at General Election in Only Four Counties—Make Sheriff Non-Partisan, or Open Primary!

Once again, only a small fraction of South Dakota voters get a say in who serves their county as sheriff.

The Secretary of State lists 89 candidates running for sheriff this year in 64 South Dakota counties.

  • 46 counties have one unopposed candidate seeking the office and thus have no sheriff’s election. (Mellette County’s sheriff also covers Todd County—meaning he’s a Share-iff; Miner County has its own sheriff but has no listed candidate.)
  • In three of those no-contest counties (Oglala Lakota, Roberts, and Sully), the sheriff will be a Democrat.
  • In three other no-contest counties (Marshall, Mellette, and Moody), the sheriff will be an independent.
    • While Miner County has no listed candidate, the current sheriff, Rob Eggert, ran and won as an independent in 2018.
  • In the remaining 40 no-contest counties, including 10 of our 15 largest-population counties, the badge and gun go without challenge to a Republican.
  • The population of the 48 counties with no sheriff’s election contain 70.7% of South Dakota’s population.
  • In 14 candidates, all of the candidates for sheriff are Republican. Thus, those counties will choose their sheriffs on June 7 at the primary, at which only Republican voters get to vote.
  • Only four counties—Dewey, Haakon, Bennett, and Brookings—have sheriff candidates of differing political affiliations. Thus, only in those four counties, constituting 5.0% of the state’s population, will all voters have a say in who runs their county law enforcement.

The point of an elected sheriff instead of a police chief hired by the county commission is to make the county’s top law enforcer more accountable to the public. But by making sheriff a partisan office, we dramatically reduce the number of sheriffs who can be held accountable by all voters.

Law enforcement should be above partisan politics. Like city officials, school board members, and judges, sheriffs should be elected on a non-partisan ballot. As I have argued in past years in which a paucity of politically diverse candidates severely limits voter participation, we should make the sheriff’s office itself non-partisan, or we should open the primary to all voters, to ensure that every voter has the opportunity to choose every elected public official.

12 Comments

  1. sx123 2022-05-06

    Candidates for sheriff just switch to Republican to have even the slightest chance of winning. I also know people that switch to republican just so they can choose sheriff, because all the candidates are republican.

    Totally bonkers. Why parties pick sheriff makes no sense.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-06

    Good point, sx. Party label should not end up excluding a majority of voters from getting a say in who gets to be sheriff.

  3. grudznick 2022-05-06

    Sheriff is the sort of thing a fellow does for life. You don’t mess with the local sheriff. Over the years grudznick has known many swell fellows who were sheriffs and maybe two were not.

  4. Mark Anderson 2022-05-06

    It isn’t the Supreme Court grudz. Wake up and have breakfast.

  5. grudznick 2022-05-06

    Support your local sheriff, Mr. Anderson,

  6. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-06

    It should be a non political office. Sheriffs are elected on their personality, connections to the community, and reputation. They can be, in many situations, more social worker than law enforcement official, in many of our smaller counties. They do deal with violence and tragedy, and shoulder tremendous responsibility in our communities. Political affiliation is a minor consideration.

  7. Bonnie B Fairbank 2022-05-06

    I’ve been thinking about the qualifications of sheriffs and deputies for several years in Fall River County and South Dakota. This is based upon my thirty years in Denver, where a person in “law enforcement” went to an academy, was probably a veteran, developed discipline, and had many, many psychological, physical, cognitive, can-you-spell-and-read, do you beat your spouse or kick your kids questions.

    “Howdy, I’m your Sheriff and have absolutely no law enforcement training and my deputies are all dumber than a bag of hammers, but we’re here to serve and protect you as long as you are a white, male Reptilian.”

  8. robbinsdale radical 2022-05-06

    I registered Republican (I get up in the morning and look in the mirror and it is difficult) this time so I could vote in the Sheriff and vote against Phil and Janet a rare treat. Going back home the day after the June election.

  9. John 2022-05-07

    Certainly the sheriff should be a non-partisan position. The sheriff position would be a good position for ranked voting.

  10. Bonnie B Fairbank 2022-05-08

    Addendum. Fall River County, SD, Deputy Buckley McColl plead guilty in 2009 to 3rd degree rape and one count of false reporting to authorities. What you won’t find online is he went out to Igloo and picked up a woman who was so impaired she was incapable of consent, took her to Edgemont, and raped her. I met this scum at a “Keep Hot Springs Beautiful” fundraiser.

    KBHB RADIO. Former Fall River County Sheriff’s Deputy good ol’ boy Frank Kistler arrested and sentenced for sexually exploiting female minors. Never met him, but he’d apparently been “let go” from other jurisdictions.

    I don’t think I have to elaborate.

  11. grudznick 2022-05-08

    Ms. Fairbank is righter-than-right that a lot of bad things happen down there where the Fall River flows. Nobody knows why a woman would be impaired in Igloo, but by golly that’s some bad stuff. grudznick has a share in a bunker down there, you know, in case –it happens, and I don’t want scum deputies driving around down there either. I once heard a different tale about a deputy fellow and some young ladies swimming in the Cascade area but that’s unrelated to this issue, other than it’s just that bad things happen down there where the Fall River flows. That’s probably why they’re slowly shutting down the town of Hot Springs.

  12. Bonnie B Fairbank 2022-05-08

    Um, Grudznick. To read I’m righter-than-right from you makes my body itch all over and my brain hurt. As Bob Newland opined on 5-7-22, Grudznutz is constitutionally unable to write a sensible sentence, and I agree.

    Also, referring to oneself in the third person, or habitual illeison, is a sure sign of a stunted intellect, personality disorder, or rampant egoism. I read that somewhere.

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