What would a potential ‘Big Dakota’ look like?

KELOLAND.com Original

Rough outline of ‘Big Dakota’ as measured on Google Earth

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — “Now entering Big Dakota!” One could potentially see such a sign in the not so distant future, if a long-shot bill introduced into the Minnesota Legislature comes to fruition.

HF 2423, described by its author, Rep. Jeremy Munson (R) District: 23B, is a “county process established to request approval to be excluded from the Territory of Minnesota, application and final approval of exclusion request requirements established, and constitutional amendment proposed.”

In short, it would allow individual Minnesota counties to vote to secede from the state, and join a neighbor. Munson’s proposal would not necessarily see Minnesota counties joining South Dakota.

In fact, the text of the bill itself does not mention any other states by name; only laying out a process for counties to vote themselves out with a two-thirds vote of the county board, followed by ratification by a vote of two-thirds of the voters in the county at the next state general election.

According to the bill, the question submitted to the voters in the county at that election must be:

“Shall the governing body of [name of county] submit an application to Congress for approval to secede from the territory organized as the state of Minnesota?”

HF 2423

The prospect of then joining another state is raised on Munson’s website, where his preference seems to lean toward South Dakota. Munson recently posted this image to his Twitter:

Rep. Jeremy Munson

Munson also indicates that North Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin are also options.

So what would happen if this proposal went through? What would it mean for, say, South Dakota if Munson’s vision, as posted to Twitter, became a reality? What would this new ‘Big Dakota’, as we have decided to call it, look like?


The following speculation surrounding ‘Big Dakota’ is just that, speculation. The numbers, measurements and outcomes described are all estimations based upon publicly available data and statistics, which we have applied to a hypothetical state laid out by the image put forward by Munson.

County level data has been used to determine the majority of the assumptions we have come to.

Now, without further ado:

SIZE:

‘Big Dakota’ would be large. Currently, South Dakota is currently the 16th largest state in the nation, with an area of 75,898 square miles. However, with the addition of 64 of Minnesota’s 86 counties, ‘Big Dakota’ would expand to cover roughly 137,743 square miles. This would make it the 5th largest state, unseating New Mexico, which covers 121,365 square miles. Only Montana (145,556), California (155,973), Texas (261,914) and Alaska (570,641) would be larger.

Rough outline of ‘Big Dakota’ as measured on Google Earth

Which Minnesota counties would be included? By overlaying a county map of the state over the image posted by Munson, we determined that the counties colored in red would part of the new ‘Big Dakota’.

Minnesota counties that would join ‘Big Dakota’ under Munson’s depiction.

Note: In our county-level overlay, Munson’s image appeared to split Dakota County, MN. For simplicity’s sake, we have left Dakota County in its entirety as a part of Minnesota.

The loss of these 64 counties would leave Minnesota with only 22 of its current counties.

POPULATION:

As of the 2019 census, South Dakota has a population of 884,659. Comparatively, Minnesota’s population is much higher, totaling 5,640,000. So how would those number change with ‘Big Dakota’ taking over so much of Minnesota’s current land mass?

We again turned to county level data in order to find our answer. Adding up the total population of each county shaded in red above, we wound up with a population of 1,712,038. Combined with South Dakota, this would total 2,596,697, making ‘Big Dakota’ the 36th largest state by population (excluding territories), falling between New Mexico (2,096,829) and Kansas (2,913,314). South Dakota is currently the 46th most populous state.

Minnesota, currently the 22nd most populous state, would see its population fall to 3,927,962, dropping to 29th in terms of population, between Connecticut (3,565,287) and Oklahoma (3,956,971).

Minnesota would lose just over 30% of its total population.

CITIES:

Largest population

Sioux Falls would remain the largest city in the newly formed state, but the top 10 would constitute a fair mix of cities from across the territory. All populations are taken from the most recent counts from each city.

  1. Sioux Falls – 195,850
  2. Rapid City – 80,169
  3. St. Cloud – 69,024
  4. Moorhead – 44,198
  5. Mankato – 43,629
  6. Aberdeen – 27,859
  7. Elk River – 25,977
  8. Owatonna – 25,662
  9. Brookings – 24,433
  10. Faribault – 23,993

Notably failing to make the top ten is current South Dakota capital, Pierre, which has a population of just 13,601. This of course leads us to the next question:

Capital city

Government moves slowly, and starting off, the capitol would likely remain in Pierre. This however, would likely lead to some difficulties, as a hypothetical representative from International Falls, a town on the Canadian border in Koochiching County, would have to drive 560 miles to reach the capitol in Pierre, a journey that takes over nine hours by car. A new capitol could be in order.

The selection of a new capitol would likely depend on a number of factors such as distance and accessibility. Here are a few of our choices, along with our reasoning, in no particular order.

  • Sioux Falls: As the largest city in the new state, it would be a logical place to hold the capitol, as it would provide plenty in the way of accommodations for the legislators. In addition to this, it has an airport and sits on the crossroads of two major interstates, making it highly accessible. Finally, its location, though quite far to the south end of ‘Big Dakota’, is much closer to the center than Pierre.
  • Watertown: Watertown hosts a larger population than Pierre and sits along Interstate-29, providing easy access to traveling lawmakers. Watertown is also farther to the north than Sioux Falls, putting it in easier reach for most of ‘Big Dakota’s’ newly acquired territory.
  • St. Cloud: The third-largest city in the territory, the city is also home to St. Cloud State University, which would be the largest university in ‘Big Dakota’ with just under 20,000 students. This would be the farthest of the three options we have listed for those traveling from the western side of the state, but would be much more central to the population as a whole.
  • Other potential capitols could include Mankato, Willmar and Moorhead.

POLITICAL POWER:

When it comes to politics, despite its large size, ‘Big Dakota’ would not be likely to be a political powerhouse. South Dakota currently has three delegates in the U.S. Congress: two Senators and one Representative. Minnesota currently has 10 total delegates: two Senators and eight Representatives.

With the removal of 30% of its population, Minnesota could be expected to lose two Representatives in the U.S. House. As 30% of the eight they currently have comes to 2.4, we have rounded this down to two.

Similarly, ‘Big Dakota’ would expect to see in an increase in representation. For the sake of simplicity, we will speculate that the two representatives Minnesota lost would be gained by ‘Big Dakota’.

In the electoral college system, each state has a number of electors equal to that of their representation in Congress. Under our presumptions, this would mean that ‘Big Dakota’ would now have five total electoral votes, up from the three currently held by South Dakota. Minnesota, meanwhile, having lost two of their representatives, would also lose two electoral votes, bringing them to a total of eight.

One major impact of this new state could be seen in election years. It is no secret that South Dakota is a deeply red state. Setting aside the supermajority held by the Republican party in the state, in the most recent presidential election, South Dakota voted for the Republican candidate over the Democratic candidate by 26 percentage points. In fact, the last Democrat to win South Dakota in a presidential election was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Minnesota, on the other hand, has gone blue in every presidential election since 1976, but in four out of the last five presidential elections, the difference has been by fewer than 10 percentage points.

Many of the counties that would be gained by South Dakota in Munson’s depiction are highly conservative, going Republican in the last presidential election by margins of 20 – 40 percentage points. The addition of these counties to South Dakota would do little to change an already highly conservative state.

In Minnesota, however, the results would be much different. Several of the counties that would remain in Minnesota went for the Democratic candidate in the last election, while many that went Republican did so at a lower margin than many of the counties that would become part of ‘Big Dakota’. Such a separation would likely lead to a future where Minnesota becomes an even more Democratic state.

ISSUES:

One major issue that would need to be resolved revolves around county names. Nine of the Minnesota counties that would be acquired as part of ‘Big Dakota’ have the same name as an already existing county in South Dakota.

These are:

  • Brown County
  • Clay County
  • Douglas County
  • Grant County
  • Jackson County
  • Lincoln County
  • Marshall County
  • Pennington County
  • Todd County

Munson’s proposal does not appear to account for reservations in its implementation.

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