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Indian voter turnout low in prelude to November election

Ed. Note: Updated to include all precincts counted.

South Dakota Democrat Stephanie Herseth narrowly defeated a Republican rival in a special U.S. House election on Tuesday that saw a high turnout except among Indian voters.

With all precincts reporting, Herseth had 132,377 votes, or 51 percent, compared to 129,396 votes, or 49 percent, for challenger Larry Diedrich. Turnout was high across the state as voters flocked to the polls to choose a replacement for Bill Janklow, the Republican who resigned in January after being convicted of felony manslaughter.

But in a state where Indian voters determined the outcome of the close 2000 U.S. Senate election, the reservation turnout fell far below the state average of 56 percent. Based on the latest results from the Secretary of State, heavily Indian counties saw as little as 30 percent voter participation.

In Todd County, home to the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, turnout was 39 percent. The county is 85 percent Indian.

In nearby Shannon County, home to the Pine Ridge Reservation, the turnout was much lower at 30.7 percent. The county is 94 percent Indian.

The pattern was repeated in other counties with significant Indian populations. The turnout in Corson County, home to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, was a mere 40 percent. Indians make up 60 percent of the population in the county.

On the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, turnout in Dewey County was just 42.7 percent while in Ziebach County, it was 44.3 percent. The two counties are 74 percent and 72 percent Indian, respectively.

Only Bennett County, where Indian voters have gone to the polls to elect Indian officials, beat the trend. The county, which is 52 percent Indian, had a turnout of 62 percent.

And in Charles Mix County, which has a majority non-Indian population but has a significant Indian presence thanks to the Yankton Sioux Reservation, the turnout was 61 percent.

Despite the low participation, Indian voters chose Herseth over Diedrich by wide margins. In Shannon County, she won 94 percent of the vote while in Todd County, she won 84 percent.

In Dewey County, Herseth had 75 percent of the vote and in Ziebach County, she won 69 percent. Herseth's support was high in the counties of Bennett (60 percent) and Corson (56 percent) but she lost Charles Mix to Diedrich by just five votes. The county has seen strained relations among Indians and non-Indians in recent years.

In the 2000 U.S. Senate race, Indian voters overwhelmingly chose Democrat Tim Johnson, who defeated Republican John Thune by just 524 votes. The close results have the Democrat and Republican parties angling for support among the state's nine reservations in the upcoming matchup between Thune and Sen. Tom Daschle, a Democrat.

Based on Tuesday's results and those from 2000, Republicans will have a harder time convincing Indian voters to switch parties. Both Thune and Daschle say Indian issues are top priority. The state's Indian population is about 9 percent.

As for Herseth, 33, she will be immediately sworn in to serve the seven months left in Janklow's failed term. She will have to compete for the state's sole House seat again in November.

South Dakota Election Results:
Statewide | County Turnout | More Results

Relevant Links:
Stephanie Herseth -
Larry Diedrich -