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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MHS Bond Issue Early Voting Open! But Don't Wear Your Bulldog Jacket....

KJAM reports that early voting has begun in the $16.98-million new gym and high school renovation bond issue placed before us by the Madison Central School District. (Worth noting: one of KJAM's main media personalities, Matt Groce, is also leading a committee advocating passage of the Madison Central school bond issue.) The early voting information is also available (in annoyingly unnecessary PDF format) on the Madison K-12 website. (Who at MHS seriously thinks it's easier to publish a simple text notice as a PDF? What are you teaching those kids?)

The school is going to great lengths to make voting as convenient as possible. You can vote by mail or by dropping in to business manager Cindy Callies's office at the high school. Callies and Madison Education Foundation exec Monica Campbell will also have ballots handy "at many events and community locations prior to the election." Callies will even arrange to bring ballots to your place of employment so you can get all of your employees to vote.

Wait a minute. I'm all for universal enfranchisement. I'm all for absentee ballots. But voting at "school events" and other "community locations"? How do we arrange poll-watchers for this kind of everywhere, anytime voting?

This activity falls safely within the rules for absentee voting. I know in 2008 when I was out walking for Obama and other Dems, we could offer to deliver absentee ballots for interested voters.... Update: but as I review the Secretary of State's guidelines on absentee balloting, I am reminded that the only time we did that was in case of voters who were homebound by sickness or disability who would authorize a messenger in writing to convey their ballots.

But if the school district is organizing voting at events and workplaces, the school might want to take a look at SDCL 12-18-3, which governs electioneering and other conduct at polling places:

12-18-3. Electioneering, offices, distracting communications devices, and signature gathering prohibited near polling place--Violation as misdemeanor. Except for sample ballots and materials and supplies necessary for the conduct of the election, no person may, in any polling place or within or on any building in which a polling place is located or within one hundred feet from any entrance leading into a polling place, maintain an office or public address system, or use any communication or photographic device in a manner which repeatedly distracts, interrupts, or intimidates any voter or election worker, or 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. No person may engage in any practice which interferes with the voter's free access to the polls or disrupts the administration of the polling place, or conduct any petition signature gathering, on the day of an election within one hundred feet of a polling place. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Read more relevant statute and cause for concern about Madison Central's early-voting scheme in my follow-up post on this topic.
I know the county courthouse takes the sanctity of the polling place seriously. I walked into the auditor's office once with a campaign t-shirt on. Absentee voting was going on in the office next door. The gals in the auditor's office immediately told me I had to cover up that shirt.

If the school district intends to establish polling places at concerts, ball games, and various workplaces around town, they had better ensure the integrity of the vote. If the school district is handing out ballots for people to mark at basketball games, they had better be on the P.A. system before the game alerting everyone that state law prohibits any discussion of the school bond election, pro or con.

Arguably, the school may have to ban Bulldog jackets, buttons, and signs at school events where voting is offered. If the "Vote Yes for MHS Committee" adopts any MHS logos or slogan for its campaign, if they adopt school colors maroon and gold for their advertising, then the presence of such school paraphernalia at polling places could well qualify as electioneering that could sway votes.

Open voting is great, but the school will need to work to assure the public its rolling polling places satisfy South Dakota election law.

Possibly related: I learn from Monica Campbell that Jon Hunter is getting into webcasting with live streaming video from Madison Bulldog home basketball games on the MDL website, starting Thursday night. No word yet on whether the school district has designed an accompanying Web widget that will let listeners vote on the bond issue electronically.


  1. I haven't decided which way I will vote on this one; however, it seems like the school business office would be the proper place to absentee vote, as is the auditor's office for primary and general elections or the city finance office for municipal elections. Moving the polling place from one school event to another just doesn't seem right. I wonder what the Sec. of State's opinion would be on this one? Perhaps there should be an opportunity to vote at the farmers elevator or senior citizens center or VFW. After all, we all pay taxes and we all should have an equal opportunity to vote.
    Sue Janssen

  2. Is it legal also for the LAIC (which is funded by taxpayers' isn't it?), to be donating to a group on only one side of the issue?

  3. OK, I just posted and forgot to put my name, the post took and then disappeared???

    Anyway, I am going to call the SOS office tomorrow morning regarding the legality of a person carrying absentee ballots around, a person who is openly pro the issue. ALso the legality of LAIC donating $5,000 to the pro renovation/gym project. How is the LAIC funded BTW - with taxpayer dollars? I went to their website but nothing there about that.

    I think it is time that we who will be footing the majority of the bill for this cadillac plan get organized too. How much are the proponents of this paying in property taxes? I think the college had to build a new house for the Knowlton's when they arrived in town, so I doubt that they pay any property taxes. What about the rest of the main proponents? This is public information, and a simple visit to the equalization office (I think that's it) will yield this information to any interested party.

  4. Michael Black12/15/2010 7:41 PM

    I believe that the DSU Foundation owns the house that the Knowltons live in. The DSU President used to reside in the Girton House just to the south of Heston Hall. Because of accessibility issues and the age and condition of the structure, they moved.

    The Madison Central School Board members have put forth what they think addresses the current shortcomings and brings the building up to a point where it will last for years and years into the future. They would not be doing their job if they did not put a plan together for improvements.

    It's pretty simple: after researching the facts and going on the tour, go and vote. If the bond issue fails to receive the 60% needed, the board will have to re-evaluate and propose new plans until a bond issue passes at some point in the future.

    We do get the most bang for the buck at the present time because of low interest rates and construction companies willing to make a deal.

  5. Wrong post, Michael: the merits of the plan have nothing to do with whether the school is breaking election law by holding mass early voting sessions at school events and in private workplaces by special arrangement with interested employers. Even the best plan in the world doesn't excuse illegal voting.

    [Apologies, Linda Mc! I simply saw no name, no nonnie, and scrubbed.]

  6. Michael Black12/15/2010 8:05 PM

    Cory, I was replying to Linda's post.

    If they are collecting the ballots at the event, then they may be in trouble, but if they are just distributing ballots for later mailing to the courthouse, they are probably fine.

  7. I'm not so sure we get the most bang for the buck even with the lower current interest rates. How does this compare to if the district held off everything except needed repairs until they actually had the money in capital outlay vs. spending about double on interest after 25 years?

    Lots of questions in this project that are NOT being addressed by the proponents and not being asked by everyone. Why the lesser cost all of a sudden for the gym as compared to the previous project? What will it actually cost taxpayers? What will happen after 25 years and the bonds are paid and the school is then 65 years old and again outdated? Why is the capital outlay fund obligated for another 12 years for the elementary school? Why now combine the middle and high school library when at the time the middle school was built this was a big no-no?

    If the proponents are so sure that this is fair to everyone, then they should list exactly how much this will cost each and every one of them in taxes per year and let all the taxpayers decide if it's fair or not.

  8. Linda, I respect what you're saying about saving and waiting until you have the cash, because ideally, that's what we all should be doing, but realistically and historically, that's now how public buildings are built or remodeled.

    If we all waited until we have the cash before we build something, we'd all live in tents or sod houses and probably would have frozen to death last week.

    Mike is right about funding and construction costs. Bond interest rates have never been lower and will never be lower which will save millions in interest. Construction companies are beating each other up to get jobs that allow them to keep their crews working, with much smaller margins, which saves the district another million or two.

    Regardless of whether we feel the remodeling project has merit (please take the tour if you haven't), timing is right to prepare this building to educate our students for the next 40 years in a proper facility.

    As far as a larger gym, is it written somewhere that we've had to be the laughing stock of South Dakota the past 46 years when it comes to a proper facility for our kids? Every other district we play has comfortable, convenient facilities with leg room and air conditioning. Let's build an adequate, proper gym for a change.

    Personally, since Brendan Johnson announced that serving food at pre-election events is okay, I'm looking forward to some pizza or hotdogs, maybe even a little tater tot caserole.

  9. Marty Jackley said it was o.k. first, Rod. And I was wondering if someone might make that comparison. bring voters in, throw them a ncie basketball game, have someone at the door offering to build them nicer bleachers... sounds like inducement to me!

    Merits or no, the school needs to conduct a legal vote. It should not be breaking election law to capture certain target audiences who might swell the yes vote. As Sue asked, are they planning to truck ballots around to the senior citizens center or out to the elevator to the rural voters? How about a voting booth for the old guys having coffee at McDonalds this morning?

  10. Charlie Johnson submitted this comment last night:

    "I think Sue makes a good point. Our local states attorney should obtain an AG opinion on this matter. If there is food or enticement at an event to encourage voting, there is possible violation of law according to both US attorney Johnson and AG Jackley. I'm in favor of absentee voting, early voting but the request should come directly to the central office(business ofice) and the ballots go out from their. As far I know people can take out and carry around requests for ballots but not ballots themselves. I think it would be improper for Monica Campbell or any other person to carry around ballots unless they are 'transporting that ballot' upon and after a written request."

  11. Michael Black12/16/2010 8:45 AM

    Linda, because rates are so low, the total paid off will not be double of the bond, but the more we delay, the more interest rates will go up and the additional costs will run into the millions later on.

    The school is basically the same as when I graduated almost 30 years ago. How long can we expect everything to last?

    I would agree that saving the money up for a big remodel would be ideal, but it was not that long ago that Bill decided that huge reserve funds were not going to be carried by school districts.

  12. I feel that there is a misconception regarding construction costs that is being floated. First, this is a very large project and would garner the attention of very large firms. During this downturn, very large firms have not been hurt nor hungry. The influx of federal dollars to large public works projects has seen to that. Those claiming that you can get "good" construction prices now do not understand the difference regarding how large and small firms operate.

  13. Just for the sake of clarification. All president's of public universities in SD are required to live in the President's home which in most cases is owned by the foundations. The Stahl-Phillips house - current home to the DSU president was partially donated by Margie and Gene Phillips. You might also be interested in knowing that Sharon and I had previously made arrangements with the MHS Foundation to donate yearly an amount equivalent to the tax assessment if the home we lived in. I would be glad to share that amount when the final amount is determined. Doug Knowlton President of DSU

  14. Rod, I appreciate that we all have to borrow to build our homes. But we do that with our own dollars and don't ask someone to fund it for us. I don't think anyone would have a problem with the cost of necessary repairs etc, but this cadillac, domino theory plan is too much. And the method of early voting is skirting the legality issues as stated above. These do nothing to build good will among those the promoters are asking to foot the bill.

  15. Here is another interesting bit of reading regarding the school issue. I read in the paper that the minimum security prison in Rapid City is currently being built. The new 5000 square foot facility will be 8x bigger than the existing structure. This is going to be built for 5.6 million. This makes me wonder... A new prison that they have to remodel an older building and the things that it would take to make it secure is considerably less than what the Madison School District is going to pay to remodel the high school and add a new gym. Wow, what extra things are we going to have to this school for this price?? Personally I am not ready for my taxes to go up just yet. Whats going to happen when China quits loaning us money for the national debt? Lets pay for the elementary school first since the school board got this done without a vote!!!

    Corey Anderson


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