PIERRE - Newspapers need to try to figure out the answer to a South Dakota mystery. Why has voter registration shifted so heavily to the independent / no-party category?
There's a related question. Why did Democrats lose voters while Republicans gained?
One theory is many registrations now occur at driver-licensing stations. Think about it.
At age 18, in South Dakota, you get your full license. You'll also get the chance to register to vote. When you have just turned 18, do you know your politics?
Do you know the differences between a Democrat and a Republican? Maybe. But what separates a Constitutionalist and a Libertarian?
Does the abortion issue automatically make you a Republican or a Democrat? (The Republican national platform adopted in 2016 opposed abortion rights. The Democratic national platform supported abortion rights.)
Or do you wish you didn't have to deal with politics while you're getting your license?
I don't know of a program by either major political party to contact South Dakota teenagers as they become old enough to vote.
The trend we're seeing in South Dakota voter-registration numbers suggests teenagers might be better informed if the parties at least mailed postcards.
The final count before the 1986 general election showed voter registrations at 208,935 Republicans; 184,720 Democrats and 34,442 others.
The final count before the 2016 general election showed 252,054 Republicans; 170,655 Democrats; 118,603 independents and no-party affiliations; 2,119 Libertarian and Constitution affiliations; and 832 others.
We also can look at the 30 years this way:
Republicans rose by about 43,000;
Democrats dropped by about 14,000; and
Independents and no-party climbed by more than 82,000.
There also were more than 2,900 Libertarian, Constitution and other party members who weren't specifically recognized in 1986.
I'll go over these next month at the Center for Western Studies convention at Augustana University in Sioux Falls. (I'll be on a panel looking at 1980s statewide elections.)
I confess I don't know why this trend emerged. People I've asked don't seem to know either.
The roles of independents came up on several bills during the 2018 legislative session.
Does any party organization track voter registrations county by county? Is any party asking independents to convert?
I also don't know voter-turnout rates by registration bloc, whether statewide or county.
Gathering the data would be important. The South Dakota Newspaper Association has members in all 66 counties.
Time might be too short before the June 5 primary elections. Early voting opens April 20.
But there should be sufficient time before the November general elections. Early voting starts Sept. 21.
Having outside eyes to verify results is important, too. At the meeting April 21, I intend to ask whether there's a group (perhaps one or more of South Dakota's universities) willing to take up the project. We can compare results.
There's an increasing emphasis on transparency in South Dakota. This is another piece. Who votes is fundamental in a democracy.