Statewide turnout for Tuesday’s primary election is going to beat out previous years’ performance, but will do so on the strength of some late-counting ballots in Sioux Falls.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, South Dakota primary election voter turnout was recorded at 27.1 percent, with 148,487 ballots cast out of 546,899 registered voters. That was with 89 percent of the state’s precincts fully reporting.

Minnehaha County, which had more than 20,000 absentee ballots and ran into issues getting all of those ballots counted quickly, was partially reporting its results throughout the day Wednesday. It was the only county in the state to not have all of its precincts fully reporting by midday Wednesday. Those ballots put 2020 ahead of recent years' performance, which included 26.6 percent turnout in 2018 and 21.9 percent in 2016.

The only statewide races to vote on Tuesday included Republican primaries for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, with incumbents Dusty Johnson and Mike Rounds easily cruising in their races. Democrats had the Presidential primary to vote on, which Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, with Sanders having dropped out in April.

Davison County turnout was slightly higher than the state rate, with 28.03 percent turnout. A total of 3,153 ballots were cast out of 11,246 registered voters in the county. Some voters in Mitchell had a City Council race in Ward 1 to vote on, and Republicans in District 20 were able to select the district’s two representatives out of three candidates.

More than 82,000 absentee ballots had been requested ahead of Tuesday’s election, the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office said. Secretary of State Steve Barnett encouraged residents to consider using absentee ballots during the pandemic, if they wished. The office vowed to send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state.

Davison County returned 2,186 absentee ballots, and sent out 2,660 absentee ballot applications to potential voters.

The overall absentee ballot count will likely crush the state’s recent primary record. In 2018, 22,048 primary ballots were received absentee, and in 2016, 17,553 were received.

Voter turnout was highest in Jones County, where 56 percent of the registered voters cast a ballot, despite no legislative or county commission races, but 387 ballots were cast out of a possible 691 voters. (There was a separate vote for the Jones County School Board in the area, however.)

Other area counties with top turnout numbers included Gregory County with 42.4 percent turnout with 1,205 ballots cast out of 2,843 possible voters, and in Douglas County, 41.4 percent turnout was recorded (866 ballots out of 2,092 registered voters).

Five misplaced ballots added to Davison County’s count on Wednesday

In what was described as a “tiny hiccup,” five absentee ballots in Davison County were added to the county’s final count on Wednesday after being found in the wrong box.

Auditor Susan Kiepke told the Mitchell Republic on Wednesday morning that the ballots were found in a box with the absentee ballot envelopes. They are usually separated out with other absentee ballots.

“They got dropped in the wrong box,” Kiepke said. “It was not going to change any results, but I wanted to be transparent about what happened. … It shouldn’t have happened and it did.”

The ballots, which were from Precinct 18, which included the northeast portion of Mitchell’s city limits, were not enough to change results. Kiepke theorized that one of the poll workers may have been tired and put the ballots in the wrong box. Each poll worker location had three workers instead of the usual five to cut down on the number of election workers in the face of COVID-19.

The updated Davison County only results include:

  • Democratic Presidential nomination: Joe Biden 839, Bernie Sanders 195.

  • Republican U.S. Senate: Mike Rounds 1,569, Scyller Borglum 403.

  • Republican U.S. House: Dusty Johnson 1,634, Liz Marty May 333.

  • State House District 20: Lance Koth 1,391, Paul Miskimins 1,222, Barry Volk 871.

The Mitchell City Council Ward 1 race was unchanged, with Steve Rice topping Tim Goldammer, 348-286. Same for the Republican precinct committeeman race in Precinct 9, which saw Dwight Stadler top Eric Krietlow, 28-26.

The county took specific precautions for Tuesday’s polling site at the Davison County Fairgrounds. Poll workers were positioned behind Plexiglas barriers and hand sanitizer was placed throughout the building, and voters were limited to a few at a time in the voting booths. Masks were also available for those who wanted to wear one.

“I had poll workers say they felt safe, which is what we were going for,” Kiepke said.

Many of the same precautions could apply again on Nov. 3 for the general election. Kiepke said it’s too early to know if the Fairgrounds will be used as the sole voting site again, but it worked well.

“We are going to have many absentee ballots again. We had a lot of people that requested ballots for both the primary and general elections at the same time. I would anticipate having a bigger turnout through absentee ballots than we would at the polls. If this whole covid thing is still a threat, I have the same precautions we took this time again in November."

Of note, Davison County had 63 blank ballots processed in the election. Kiepke said two main reasons for that included that some voters were upset they weren’t registered under the party they had hoped to vote for. There were also some independents that didn’t want to vote in the Democratic races, which is the ballot independents or nonpolitical registrants receive in a primary.

“So some people just handed it back in blank,” she said.

Davison County will officially canvass its results at 9 a.m. Thursday at the county’s North Office Building.