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One ballot measure won't stop GOP rise

PIERRE -- South Dakota Democrats didn't get into their horribly deep hole overnight. It took 40 years of ups and downs to finally bomb this bad. But after seeing 30,000 of their registered voters disappear in the past eight years in South Dakota,...

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PIERRE - South Dakota Democrats didn't get into their horribly deep hole overnight. It took 40 years of ups and downs to finally bomb this bad.

But after seeing 30,000 of their registered voters disappear in the past eight years in South Dakota, while Republicans and independents surged to record heights for this Nov. 8 election, the question must be asked.

What happened?

First, let's look at what didn't happen. The popular, but erroneous, claim is Republicans used legislative redistricting every 10 years to punish Democrats.

Republicans did draw the boundaries every 10 years. But somehow South Dakota Democrats still held all three of the state's congressional seats for a short time in 2004 and held at least two of the seats continuously from 1986 through 2010.

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In 2010, the Republican fast break began. Republican legislator Kristi Noem, of Castlewood, beat Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

In 2014, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson didn't seek re-election. Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds won the open seat.

The real story takes about 40 years to tell. Democrats were nearly even with Republicans in 1976 and actually had more voters registered than Republicans did for the 1978 elections in South Dakota.

Among counties with at least 5,000 registered voters, the first to switch sides from D to R was Tripp in 1980.

Next came Minnehaha and Lake counties, which converted from Democratic to Republican in 1986.

Then in 1996, Davison County crossed over to Republican from Democratic as well.

In 2000, Codington and Union counties shifted from D to R.

The trend carried into 2006 when Spink County did it, too.

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Come 2014, the political realignment continued, as Beadle and Brown counties changed sides from D to R.

Nine Democratic strongholds fell in 34 years.

Worse for the Democrats came another trend: The rise of the independent or nonpartisan affiliated voter, or inpas.

These inpas first earned a foothold in Shannon (Oglala Lakota today) County in 1994, when they overtook Republicans to become the second-largest bloc there.

Twenty years passed and inpas took the No. 2 spot in Butte and Custer counties, pushing past the Democrats in those Republican fortresses during 2014. The reverse happened in Todd County, as inpas went past Republicans there.

This year, inpas rose to second in Fall River, Meade, Pennington and Union counties, further confounding Democrats in those growing Republican areas.

There are big Republican gains in Hughes, Lincoln and Lawrence counties too this year.

Back in 1976, there were 25 counties with at least 5,000 registered voters. Thirteen were Republicans and twelve were Democratic.

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Every decade since, the ratio tended a little more Republican. We're now at 17 Republican counties and four Democratic counties with at least 5,000 registered voters.

Voters approving Constitutional Amendment T on Nov. 8 won't fix the Democrats' problem overnight, either.

It would remove redistricting from the Legislature's control and give that role to a new commission whose nine members would be evenly split.

Unless you're a Republican, there's nothing wrong with the concept. But the new commission might not have enough Democrats left in enough of the right places to make much of an impact on the Republicans' super-majorities in the Legislature.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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