At our Saturday-night telephonic Madville Times editorial board meeting (how else would you run a blog?), Toby and I discussed House Bill 1219, a proposal to require towns and school districts to hold their elections in conjunction with the November general election.
SDCL 9-13-1 sets the default date for municipal elections on the second Tuesday in April, with the option for locals to set a different date. SDCL 13-7-10 allows school elections may take place between that second April Tuesday and the third June Tuesday. HB 1219 says nope, everybody votes for everybody on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
HB 1219 demonstrates yet another instance where Republicans throw local control overboard when it conflicts with their agenda. Given the conservative pedigree of this bill—the prime sponsor is recklessly ALEC-happy Rep. Hal Wick, and the co-sponsors include many righter-than-right wingnuts—one might assume that HB 1219 is saying local election control is less important than fiscal restraint. Fewer election days mean fewer hours that locals have to pay election officials to watch, check, and count. Those savings could fund an additional day of snow-shoveling—rock on!
But could there be a political angle? Could radical righties like Rep. Jenna Haggar, Rep. Betty Olson, Senator R. Blake Curd, and Senator Ernie Otten see a way to boost their theocratic designs by tying local school board and city commission candidates to partisan general election fervor?
My blog co-author Toby Uecker suggests that folks trying to stack their local school boards with creationist fetus idolatrists wouldn't want the school board election to happen during the general. The smaller off-general elections have lower turnout. Their outcomes are influenced more by highly motivated ideological voters, as we see in the primaries. If you have a moonbat candidate and a hundred motivated friends, you're more likely to get your local Lyndon LaRouche elected to your school board than during a general election when a much larger number of sane voters will be paying attention.
Of course, attention is a precious resource during an election. Local candidates may have a hard time being heard above the din of Senate, House, and gubernatorial candidates and big ballot measures, not to mention their county commission candidates. Maybe HB 1219 has the good intention of increasing turnout and giving local officials a larger voter mandate... but is that mandate any larger if voters aren't really paying attention to those names at the bottom of the ballot?
More important complications for HB 1219 lie in the timing for both candidates and budgets. First, consider the campaign calendar in Madison. Madison school board and city commission candidates must submit their petitions by the last Friday of February. The campaign then lasts for about six weeks, until the April vote. Moving the local election onto the general ballot requires Madison school and city candidates to submit their petitions by the second Friday in August, so their names can be included on the general election ballot. HB 1219 thus doubles the length of the campaign. Local candidates aren't required to launch their campaigns early, but as a former school board candidate, I can attest that it's nice to keep the campaign season short for everyone.
HB 1219 also complicates government timing. We elect members of Congress and the Legislature in the fall, just prior to the beginnings of new sessions. Our current spring school board elections allow us to seat new board members in the summer, when school is out, at the beginning of the academic and fiscal year. In those cases, new members get to "start fresh." (For city councils, the election date arguably does not matter in the same way, since municipalities conduct business continuously.) HB 1219 doesn't mandate when local school boards have to seat their new members, though hanging onto ousted board members for an eight-month lame-duck period seems unwise. HB 1219 thus makes it likely we would see management churn in school districts while school is in session. Is that really the best time for changes at the top?
HB 1219 appears to have misassigned to House Education when it seems to fall more within the purview of House Local Government, which has tackled other bills affecting local elections. HB 1219 has yet to receive a hearing date.9 comments