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.