SD voter participation surges for election, clearing 73%

Voters line up while practicing social distancing as voters cast their votes on Tuesday morning at the Davison County Fairgrounds in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

South Dakota voter participation surged in the 2020 general election, clearing the 70 percent threshold statewide.

After all precincts reported Wednesday, Nov. 5, South Dakota's percent of participating voters casting a ballot in the election was at 73.88% out of the state's 578,656 registered voters.

The figure continued to climb on Wednesday as the state's largest county, Minnehaha, completed its vote count.

In the last presidential election in 2016, South Dakota's turnout was recorded at 69.62%. Statewide turnout was 73.2 percent in 2008 and 69.7 percent in 2012 for presidential elections.

On the 2020 ballot was the presidential race, U.S. House and Senate races and ballot measures involving both medical and recreational marijuana, and sports wagering, along with local legislative races.


A total of 427,513 ballots were cast, according to the South Dakota Secretary of State's data. The state easily surpassed the 2016 mark of votes cast in the election, with 378,995 votes cast in 2016.

With COVID-19 impacting South Dakota in the last few months, more South Dakota voters chose to cast ballots via absentee methods than ever before and nearly doubling the output of four years ago.

As of Monday, Nov. 2, South Dakota had received 216,140 ballots cast through absentee processes or early voting. Registered Republicans accounted for nearly half of those absentee votes (103,655), while Democrats turned in 67,839 absentee ballots. In 2016, 108,733 absentee ballots were cast.

Jones County was the state's voting participation leader as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, with 607 of its 706 voters casting ballots in the election concluding Tuesday, good for a rate of 85.98%. It is the state's smallest county by population.

The south-central South Dakota county, with Murdo as the county seat, has led the state in voter turnout by percentage in the last two statewide general elections, and had the second-best turnout in 2016, with Harding County edging it for top honors that year.

Sully County ranked second in voter participation, with 85.4% of eligible voters casting a ballot in the election. Other counties above 80% included Harding (83.1%), Haakon (82.73%), Jerauld and Hand counties (both 81.2%), Douglas (81.1) Potter (80.7%) and Hamlin (80.3%).

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Trump runs up big totals in SD

President Donald Trump showed off large South Dakota support again in the 2020 general election. As of Wednesday afternoon, Trump had 62% of the vote in the Rushmore State, nearly doubling up Joe Biden's vote count with 36% of the vote. Trump won the state by 29 percentage points in 2016.

Of the state's 66 counties, Trump won 60 of them, including 33 by receiving 70% or more of the vote in the county. Most notably, Harding and Haakon counties each crossed the 90% threshold in support of Trump, logging 92% and 90.2% of the vote for the president in their West River jurisdictions.

Trump won 11 of the state's 13 largest counties by 20 percentage points or more, with Brookings and Minnehaha counties as the only outliers. Brookings County favored Trump by 13 percentage points, while Minnehaha County's margin in Trump's favor tightened to 9 points on Wednesday.

Compared to Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance, Biden was able to pick up only one additional South Dakota county in the election that concluded Tuesday. That was Ziebach County in the northwestern part of the state, where Biden defeated Trump, 484-401 in a county that had only 906 votes cast.

In 2008, Barack Obama won 16 of the state's 66 counties, and it was the last time that six counties — Brookings, Brown, Lake, Miner, Minnehaha and Moody — went for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Ziebach was the only one of South Dakota's so-called Pivot Counties — jurisdictions that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then for Trump in 2016 — that went on Biden's ledger in 2020. The others — Corson, Day, Marshall and Roberts — supported Trump again.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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