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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Madison Central Violating State Election Law?

The more I think about Madison Central School District's proposed early voting scheme, the more uneasy I get. Beyond creating the awkwardness of voting on a new gym while surrounded by maroon-clad Bulldog basketball fans, the school district may be arranging early-voting that violated state election law.

The school district is offering four means of early voting in the upcoming bond election (I quote verbatim from their PDF):
  • By mail
  • At the business manager’s office in the high school at 800 NE 9th St.
  • At many events and community locations prior to the election.
  • Anyone who wishes to have early voting conducted at their business for their employees can contact the business office at 256-7710 for more information.
Vote by mail? No problem.

Vote at the school business office? Probably not a problem.

Voting at a school event? Problem.

Voting arranged by bosses for employees at workplaces? Big problem.

First, the school offers no reliable list of early-voting polling places. When and where exactly are the school events where voting will be possible? Will Cindy Callies have ballots on hand at every public event at the school? Or will the school district only break out the ballots at sporting events when they see lots of backers of the 2007 new gym project? Will the school avoid setting up a voting booth at, say, the public one-act performance in January, where they might encounter a number of arts supporters who feel the current $16.98 million plan still puts too much emphasis on athletics over academics?

Same with community events: when and where? Given South Dakota's overwhelming concern with protecting the secret ballot, perhaps a concerned citizen would want to observe the balloting to ensure voters' rights are protected. How can a poll watcher keep track of the voting if the school is doing it in undisclosed locations?

Arranging voting sessions at employers' requests at workplaces smells bad, if not worse. State law entitles employees to two hours off work to vote. Letting bosses arrange in-house voting skirts that requirement (mark your circles, then back to work, slaves!). Worse, it opens the door for all sorts of workplace intimidation: Imagine the boss walking in, saying, "O.K., who wants a ballot to vote on the school bond issue?" and then conspicuously noting with a scowl those who don't take a ballot, presuming to exercise their right to vote in private.

And imagine, just imagine, that employer were Madison Central School District. Principal calls a staff meeting, says, "Hey everyone! Cindy's here so you can all vote!" and hands out ballots.

I don't think principals Knowlton, Koch, or Walsh would do such a foolish thing. I hope every boss in town is that prudent. If employees want to vote, employees can request their absentee ballots individually or come to the polls on their own, on official leave as permitted by state law. Their bosses should have no involvement in their voting.

I support early voting and absentee voting. I support government efforts to get more people to vote.

But I also support following the spirit and letter of election law to protect voter rights and ensure complete fairness. The Madison Central School District needs to clarify and likely scale back its early voting plan to ensure its compliance with election law.

And remember, fellow voters: no Bulldog jackets at the polls.
Statute relevant to early voting in the school bond election:
  • SDCL 12-18-1 requires that "All voting at the polling place shall be in private voting booths or compartments and, except as provided in § 12-18-25, shall be screened from observation."
  • SDCL 12-18-3 says that, at a polling place, no one may "display campaign posters, signs, or other campaign materials or by any like means solicit any votes for or against any person or political party or position on a question submitted or which may be submitted."
  • SDCL 12-18-9.2 authorizes and requires election officials and the cops to remove any materials violating SDCL 12-18-3 and arrest anyone committing such violations.
  • SDCL 12-18-9 dictates that "Any person, except a candidate who is on the ballot being voted on at that polling place, may be present at any polling place for the purpose of observing the voting process." Rather difficult to do unless the school publishes a complete list of places, dates, and times where the voting process is taking place.
  • SDCL 12-19-2.1 has a couple of goodies on absentee ballots:
    • To get an absentee ballot, you "may apply in person to the person in charge of the election." That means one person, Cindy Callies, can legally hand you an absentee ballot. KJAM is reporting Monica Campbell will have ballots; I'm still looking for the statute that authorizes an "election assistant" to distribute absentee ballots.
    • A third party can deliver an absentee ballot is if the voter (a) is confined "because of sickness or disability," (b) applies in writing, and (c) designates an authorized messenger to carry the ballot.
  • SDCL 12-19-7.2 makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor for any authorized messenger to, "in the presence of the voter at or before the time of voting, display campaign posters, signs, or other campaign materials or by any like means solicit any votes for or against any person, political party, or position on a question submitted."
  • SDCL 12-1-2 says that all of these Title 12 provisions "apply to township, municipal, school, and other subdivision elections unless otherwise provided by the statutes specifically governing their elections or this title." I haven't found any exceptions for school bond elections in Title 13.
  • SDCL 13-7-14 says "Absentee voting shall be permitted in school district elections, including school district bond elections. The school board, with the approval of the county auditor and board of county commissioners, may permit absentee ballots to be voted at the county auditor's office in the county of jurisdiction."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Corey, for finding these statutes and putting them out there for all to see. I hope the school board and administration will strive to be in compliance with the statutes. Wouldn't it be in the school's best interest to ask the Sec. of State to review the election arrangements? Might save some legal hassles down the road.....
    Sue J


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