50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 40. South Dakota

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

40. South Dakota


Nickname: The Mount Rushmore State

Motto: Under God, The People Rule

About the State

Like North Dakota, prior to the arrival of European settlers, South Dakota was home to various Native American tribes – including the Sioux, Chippewa and Arikara.  The two Dakotas share much of their history up until they joined the Union as separate states in 1889 – they were both first claimed by the French as part of the Louisiana Territory, before being transferred to Spanish control in 1762 after the Seven Years’ War and later sold to the United States – having been regained for France by Napoloen – in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  Initially, the region was settled by fur traders, but demand from Europe dropped in the 1840s and many people left in search of other opportunities elsewhere.  By the 1850s, land speculators arrived and the towns Sioux Falls and Yankton in southern South Dakota were established in 1856 and 1859 respectively.

The Yankton Sioux signed a treaty in 1858 ceding most of the region to the United State and, three years later, the Dakota Territory was organised, which included all of the modern-day states of North and South Dakota, as well as parts of Wyoming and Montana.  The Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed by the United States in 1868; in it they recognised that the Black Hills in the western part of South Dakota would be owned by the Lakota Sioux.  However, after an expedition led by George A. Custer discovered gold in the area in 1874 and the United States failed to stop miners from entering the region, despite not being granted rights to do so by the Sioux, resulting in the outbreak of a war.  The Natives were defeated, but a 1980 Supreme Court case – United States vs Sioux Nation of Indians – ruled that the tribe should be compensated for the Black Hills, though the Sioux have to this day refused to accept the money, instead wanting the land returned to them.

The settlement of Deadwood was established in the 1870s and a gold rush in the middle of the decade attracted many prospectors to the area.  However it was considered an illegal town in Native American territory and became known for lawlessness and murders, most notably of the famed gunfighter, Wild Bill Hickok in 1876.  In 1889, the Territory’s population had increased such that it was divided in half and became the states of North and South Dakota, the 39th and 40th states of the Union, though the exact order will never be known as President Harrison insisted the proclamations be shuffled by his Secretary of State, James Blaine, prior to him signing them.  A year later, the last armed conflict took place between the United States and the Lakota Sioux at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which resulted in the death of around 300 Native Americans – around two-thirds of whom were women and children – in the Wounded Knee Massacre.

In comparison to the few visitors that its northern neighbor attracts, tourism is South Dakota’s second biggest economic sector (behind the service industry) with around 3 million people a year going to the state, most of whom go to visit Mount Rushmore.  The sculpture of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt was carved into the mountainside to represent the first 150 years of American history and, although the four men were originally going to be depicted from head to waist, construction ended in 1941 when funding for the project ran out.  South Dakota is the 17th largest state in the Union and, with just over 820,000 residents, ranks 46th in terms of population.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 3

2008 Result: McCain 53.2% Obama 44.7%

Latest Poll: Romney +11%

The last time North and South Dakota did not vote for the same candidate in a Presidential election was in 1916, when Woodrow Wilson carried North Dakota in his successful re-election bid, but the south went to Republican Charles Hughes.  Neither have voted for a Democrat as President since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and it is a certainty that South Dakota will again match its near namesake as both will send their 3 Electoral College Votes to Governor Romney.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There are no Senate elections in South Dakota this November.  The state has one “At-Large” district for the House of Representatives and that seat is currently held by Republican, Kristi Noem, who is expected to win a second term in office against the Democratic candidate, Matt Varilek.

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