- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Nearly half of registered voters in South Dakota identify as Republicans, according to new state data, showing why Democrats could face a difficult task this year holding onto the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by retiring Democrat Tim Johnson.

Forty-six percent of registered voters said they were Republicans, 34 percent Democrats and 16 percent Independents. Libertarian, Constitution and Americans Elect party members make up the remainder.

A crowded field of five Republicans is vying for the party nomination for U.S. Senator, led by former Gov. Mike Rounds. South Dakota’s Senate seat is the mostly likely in the nation to switch from Democrat to Republican in the November election, several national analysts have said.

Some 511,000 people have registered to vote in South Dakota, similar to figures from the June 2012 primary, state figures show. Republican registration was flat, Democrats fell two percentage points and Independents fell one percentage point. Totals of registered Democrats have been trending down in the state as current totals are 4 points less than 2006 general election figures.

The Democrats hold majorities in 17 counties including the northeast corner of the state and southwest on the Pine Ridge reservation. There are pockets of Democrats along the southeast and northwest banks of the Missouri river as well. The other 49 counties in the state are dominated by Republicans.

Chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party Craig Lawrence was happy to see the Republicans eke out a majority over Democrats in Brown County, home of Aberdeen.

“That’s a seismic event,” Lawrence said. “They had a definite county effort and it paid off for them.”

Both Lawrence and Zach Crago, executive director for the South Dakota Democratic Party, said their parties plan to wait until after the primary to focus on registering more voters. Registration closed Monday for the primary election on June 3.

Secretary of State Jason Gant’s office is promoting a free mobile app that provides personalized voting information.

It’s available for Apple and Android devices and can be downloaded from the Secretary of State’s website.

Users can see where they vote, what’s on their ballot and other voter registration and election information.

Registered voters can cast their ballots early with absentee voting by mail or at county courthouses. Officials have sent out about 4,700 ballots and received about 3,400 back. Absentee voting ends June 2, the day before the election.

Registered voters must bring photo identification to the polls or sign a personal identification affidavit.