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Days before midterms, all eyes on SD voter turnout

PIERRE — With Tuesday’s midterm elections just around the corner and a hotly contested governor’s seat on the ballot, all eyes are on voter turnout in the Mount Rushmore state.

Compared to the last midterm election in 2014, 2018’s races already appear to be drawing more interest from eligible voters. According to a Friday press release from the Secretary of State’s office, nearly 79,000 absentee ballots have been requested. In 2014, just over 55,000 absentee ballots were cast.

Statewide, if all absentee ballots requested are cast, that will be an increase of over 23,000 votes, or a whopping 42.48 percent, between the two midterms.

According to the release, nearly 109,000 absentee ballots were cast in the 2016 general election. Historically, turnout for general elections is substantially higher than that of midterms.

2014’s official turnout numbers are not available on the Secretary of State’s website as of Friday afternoon due to technical difficulties, but data available shows that over 279,000 out of 521,000 registered voters in South Dakota, or 53.63 percent, cast their ballots in 2014’s U.S. Senate race.

By comparison, in 2016’s general elections, records show nearly 379,000 out of 544,000 registered voters cast their ballots, or 69.62 percent.

In Davison County, 2,257 absentee ballots were recorded through the auditor’s office, as of 2 p.m. Friday. In the last midterm election in 2014, Davison County had 1,673 absentee votes, while an estimated 2,500 absentee early votes were recorded in 2012, which is believed to be the county record under Auditor Susan Kiepke.

Voter registration totals don’t equal turnout, but they can offer insight to general public interest in elections. In South Dakota, registration numbers are up from 2014’s midterms, and even from 2016’s general election.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, approximately 545,000 South Dakotans are registered to vote as of Nov. 2, compared to about 544,000 for 2016’s general election and 521,000 for 2014’s midterms.

That’s approximately 4.66 percent growth in four years, a difference of over 24,000 registered voters.

This voter registration growth before a midterm election is noteworthy: Voter registration in the state has actually declined before the last two midterm elections.

Between 2012’s general elections and 2014’s midterms, voter registration declined by nearly 7,600. Between 2008 and 2010, it declined by over 11,000.

Between 2014’s midterms and Friday, Republicans have made the most gains in party-affiliated registrations, going up by 6.63 percent from 240,000 in 2014 to over 256,000 in 2018. Democrats, on the other hand, have lost nearly 10 percent of their registered base, down to nearly 159,000 in 2018 compared to 176,000 in 2014.

Even more than Republicans, though, South Dakota’s Independent and non-party-affiliated voter base has made substantial gains in just four years, with registration up 23.76 percent from 102,000 to 127,000. The group currently makes up 23.23 percent of all registered voters, compared to Democrats’ 29.15 percent and Republicans’ 47.04 percent.

Gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton, who identifies as a moderate Democrat, has attempted to woo this group. According to a poll released by The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and KELO-TV Thursday, 52 percent of Independent voters surveyed said Sutton had their vote, compared to 36 percent for Republican Kristi Noem.

Noem has held on to the majority of her party affiliates according to the same poll, with 72 percent of surveyed Republicans backing her — but Sutton has pulled more Republicans from Noem than she has pulled Democrats from him. Nineteen percent of Republicans surveyed said Sutton had their vote.

In comparison, 81 percent of Democrats surveyed backed Sutton, and 12 percent backed Noem.