Rob Wylie, the top administrator for the South Dakota Retirement System, said Monday he didn’t know why voter turnout was so low in four contests for seats on the SDRS board of trustees.
The 2017 round of elections marked the first time SDRS offered on-line voting as an option, with the hope that participation would increase, at least among the teachers, state employees and county employees with access to computers.
SDRS also mailed approximately 50,000 paper ballots and informed those members whose classes had seats at stake in the elections that they could vote on-line or by paper.
The return rates were far from great.
Of 14,363 ballots sent to teachers, the company handling the election received 1,157 back, between on-line and paper, and counted 1,154. The response of 8 percent was the lowest for teachers since at least 1989. James Appl of Aberdeen won the four-candidate contest with 476 votes.
There were 8,380 ballots mailed to state employees. They cast 1,089 and 1,079 were counted. The 13 percent response tied the 2013 turnout as the lowest since at least 1992. Incumbent Laurie Gustafson of Pierre won the four-candidate race with 487 votes.
Retirees, who have one seat among the 15 voting trustees, were sent 23,445 ballots. They cast 7,704 and 7,660 were counted. The 33 percent turnout was lowest since at least 1989. Incumbent James Hansen of Pierre won the seven-candidate contest with 1,754 votes.
County employees were mailed 3,622 ballots. They cast 468 and all 468 were counted. The 13 percent participation was the lowest since at least 1992. Winner in the two-candidate race was the Incumbent, Kathy KJ Peterson of Rapid City, who is the deputy auditor for Pennington County. She received 344 votes.
Wylie said the SDRS trustees and administrative staff are “concerned” about the long-term trend of declining turnout. For comparison, turnouts were retirees 46 percent in 1989; teachers 36 percent in 1989; state employees 23 percent in 1992; and county employees 29 percent in 1992. All four have gradually but steadily dropped during the decades since then.
“We had hoped that the electronic voting initiated this year would improve the vote count, though we knew the impact on the retiree election would be minimal.,” Wylie said.
“We will take a closer look at this to determine if there are other steps we can take. I anticipate that we will discuss this matter in more detail with participating employers and members also.
“In short,” Wylie concluded, “I do not think the electronic voting lowered the turnout, but the long-term trend of lower vote counts continued in this election.”
FIRST UPDATE: The electronic voting numbers, by the way, were teachers 251; state employees 240; retirees 853; and county employees 66.
SECOND UPDATE: The trustees appointed Roy Lindsay Jr., mayor of Madison, to the elected-municipal official seat. His term runs July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2021. He succeeds Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill, who didn’t seek re-election this spring. No one was a candidate for the seat.
THIRD UPDATE: Here’s the Election Returns Comparison 2017 (1).