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 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.