SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been a long month for Shane Merrill and many other South Dakota Democrats. 

Along with recalling the party’s chair Jennifer Slaight-Hansen and awaiting an appeal process, the number of registered Democratic voters in South Dakota now trails both registered Republicans (304,041) and independent and no-party-affiliation voters (151,170). 

Merrill, who is currently serving as interim chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said there hasn’t been a tougher month for Democrats in the state in his lifetime. Still, the former Parker city council member is looking for positives while he remains unsure if he’d seek to become the party’s chair or remain as vice chair when a new election is held. 

“I do believe that history would tell us that before George McGovern, there were exceptionally tough times for Democrats in South Dakota,” Merrill told KELOLAND News. “We have reason to be optimistic. We always have to be optimistic.” 

Merrill said since 2008 there’s been a long downward trend and voter registration data points to that. KELOLAND’s Bob Mercer reported July 2009 was a modern high for Democrats’ voter registration in South Dakota with 206,086, while Republicans were at 242,774 while NPAs and independents totaled 86,310.

Merrill agreed with previous statements by Pennington County Democratic chair Annie Bachand and Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba that the recall process has helped Democrats across the state communicate more. 

Merrill said the recall position showed how gaps have formed in many rural counties across the state. 

“It’s always tough but trying to work especially hard to bring those back and make sure everybody’s got a voice,” Merrill said. “(The recall) has been a long process, but it seems to have definitely got people interested in the process and we hope we channel some of that in 2024.” 

For the future, Merrill pointed to goals like getting through the recall process and any possible legal challenges by Slaight-Hansen, working to reestablish county-level party leaders, find candidates and run competitive races. 

Until then, the SDDP central committee plans to vote in September for a new chair and any other office vacancies. 

“We stand for honesty, integrity, hard work and leveling the playing field. That, to me, is what a South Dakota Democrat is,” Merrill said. “I’m a rural Democrat so I probably tend to lean more moderate than some and that’s OK. We’re a big tent.”