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South Dakota Indian voter turnout a record high

Voters on South Dakota reservations went to the polls in record force on Tuesday, surpassing the turnout in recent elections.

Based on final figures from the Secretary of State, the turnout in eight counties with significant Indian populations was a high of 67 percent. While this was below the statewide average of 79 percent, it still represented an increase from the special U.S. House election in June, when the Indian voter turnout doubled from the 2002 U.S. Senate election.

In Bennett County, for example, turnout was 70 percent, up from 62 percent in June. The county, situated between the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Rosebud Sioux Reservation has an Indian population of 52 percent.

In Buffalo County, home to the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation, turnout was 76 percent, up from 46 percent in June. The county has an Indian population of 82 percent.

On the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, turnout was equally high. Based on the figures, 73 percent in Dewey County voted, up from 43 percent in June. In Ziebach County, 67 percent voted, up from 44 percent in June. The Indian population in both counties is above 70 percent.

The pattern repeated in four other counties where the Indian population is greater than 50 percent. These counties were: Corson (67 percent turnout; 61 percent Indian), Mellette (72 percent turnout; 52 percent Indian), Shannon (57 percent turnout; 94 percent Indian) and Todd (65 percent turnout; 86 percent Indian).

In Shannon County, which encompasses the Pine Ridge Reservation, turnout improved greatly from June, when it was a mere 31 percent. Going back to 2002, the number of voters on the reservation increased nearly seven-fold.

A similar story appears in Todd County, home to the Rosebud Sioux reservation. In June, turnout was just 39 percent. When compared to 2002, the number of Indian voters jumped nearly five-fold.

The increase in voter registration and voter turnout is attributed to efforts by Indian organizations and the Republican and Democrat parties. South Dakota, with an Indian population of 9 percent, was a big target due to the tight race between Sen. Tom Daschle and Republican John Thune, who won on Tuesday.

The National Congress of American Indians organized a nationwide non-partisan effort to increase the rolls. Tribes, organizations and volunteers worked in key states to register more Native Americans and get them to vote.

"Native voters turned out to the election polls in greater numbers for this election day than any other in history," Tex Hall, NCAI's president, said yesterday.

Brian Drapeau, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, was the state's coordinator for the Native Vote Project, a non-partisan organization. "The impact was very good," he said on the radio program Native America Calling. "We had a tremendous turnout on the reservation."

Based only on the three biggest reservations -- Pine Ridge, Rosebud Sioux, and Cheyenne River Sioux -- Drapeau said their average turnout of 66 percent was "historic." "The tribes have done their part," he said. "They participated at the level we were hoping to."

The following table lists the turnout in the counties with an Indian population greater than 50 percent. The counties of Charles Mix, Jackson, Lyman and Roberts were excluded because their Indian population was below 50 percent. The June 2004 turnout for Mellette County is not included here because the figure is not readily available from the state.

County Total
Nov 04
June 04
BENNETT 1,717 70% 62% 52%
BUFFALO 903 76% 46% 82%
CORSON 1,804 67% 40% 61%
DEWEY 2,683 63% 43%74%
MELLETTE 1,010 72% n/a52%
SHANNON4,549 57% 31% 94%
TODD 3,691 65% 39% 86%
ZIEBACH 1,115 67% 44%73%
Avg Turnout 67%
State Turnout 79%
Total Votes 17,472

Secretary of State Data:
Turnout by County | County Totals | Statewide Totals | More Results