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Gant Cautions Madison on Influencing Voters on Bond Election

Apparently I'm not the only one concerned that the Madison Central School District is pushing the boundaries of election law as it tries to stack the vote on the $16.9-million new gym and high school renovation in its favor. Secretary of State Jason Gant says he has heard from several concerned citizens (I was not one of them) about the conduct of our vote. He has thus issued this press release to "remind" election officials of polling place requirements.

School districts are within their rights under South Dakota law to designate school buildings as polling places. However, special care must be taken to make sure there are no outside influences on the voting process. In the case where a school activity is being conducted at the same location and it requires admission, the voter cannot be charged to vote. Also, food and beverages shall not be available within the polling place. The polling area should be clearly marked and accessible without voters being interfered with in any way to access the voting area [Secretary of State Jason Gant, press release, 2011.01.14].

No food or beverages within the polling place: I wonder if that means just the room where the ballots are or the entire building. If I can walk from the basketball game concession stand to the ballot table with a hot dog and a Coke in my hand, is that a problem?

Alas, Secretary Gant has not chosen to comment on staging voting in private workplaces or displaying electioneering materials in buildings where voting takes place. Stay tuned....

(p.s.: I have heard the middle school kids have made posters saying "Vote Yes for MHS" to hang in the halls. Anyone care to comment?)


  1. nonnie 2011.01.14

    This is SD codified law.

    12-18-3. ... 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...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..."

    This is quite self-explanatory and easy to understand. No signs can be hung in the building in which voting is conducted, period.

  2. nonnie 2011.01.14

    This is on the Madison website community calendar.

    "The Madison Elementary PTO will be hosting a FREE Family Bingo on Sunday, January 16th from 1:30-3:30 in the high school lunchroom. The PTO invites everyone to attend for fun, prizes, and more!!"

    The "more" evidently is the chance to vote for the gym/renovation project. Does any reader have a copy of the letter that was sent home with the elementary school kids encouraging them to bring their parents and others, and stating that the grade getting the most people there wins a prize. I have tried to get a copy of said letter but haven't found one yet. If anyone has a copy, I'd like to hear from them.

  3. Charlie Johnson 2011.01.14

    How about MHS hallways? The business office is right off the main hallway. Can students or staff wear t-shirts or have campaign material in their possesion?

  4. Rod Goeman 2011.01.14

    Secretary of State, Jason Gant left out a key word in his analysis and advice based on the incorrect info people are sending his office. When he says "no food or beverage shall be available" he actually means no FREE food as an enticement to vote. If someone buys a bag of popcorn or a slice of pizza at the concession stand, then decides to vote because of the convenience, they can certainly carry their food to the polling area. Charlie probably has a point, that all posters urging "Vote Yes" or "Vote No" must be at least 100 feet away from the polling locations, whether it is the Business Office or an event. That's pretty easy to monitor. However, generic factual information about voting (dates, locations, sample ballots, etc) can be posted within the 100 feet limit as long as they don't try to sway a voter either direction. I'm confident that Business Manager, Cindy Callies is following the letter of the law. This isn't her first rodeo. She was also the County Auditor for Miner County for many years.

  5. Jim Shafer 2011.01.14

    I have a copy of the said letter. It will be in my pocket Sunday.
    If you would like to see it, show up at the High School lunchroom between 1:30 & 3:30 Sunday and I will hand it to you. Perhaps you could stick around and play some Bingo. Everyone is invited, no matter what position you favor on the bond issue.
    Why are you trying to make an afternoon of Bingo more than it is? It is not the first time the PTO has hosted an activity like this, so to suggest it is to influence voters is just wrong.
    By the way, I am undecided on which way I will vote, and I will not be voting early. Giving people an opportunity to vote is not wrong. Telling someone how to vote is.
    In case you are too busy to make it, I will let you know if a Yes vote is required to yell Bingo.

  6. nonnie 2011.01.14

    Rod, you state, "all posters urging “Vote Yes” or “Vote No” must be at least 100 feet away from the polling locations..." Read my first post that according to codified law any posters urging yes or no votes on any issue or candidate cannot be placed anywhere in a building where polling (voting) is taking place.

    And I have nothing against bingo BTW. It's fun. If it is an elementary school party though, why hold it in the high school if not to influence voters?

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.01.14

    Jim, I have no problem with a good afternoon of bingo. But I can understand Linda's uneasiness about locating voting at the same place. The bingo session offers prizes and entertainment. Holding an event like that at a polling place comes perilously close to inducing people to vote.

    I am curious: will the business manager go to these lengths to get more people to vote in the school board election? Will I be able to vote for school board members at basketball and bingo games?

  8. Charlie Johnson 2011.01.14

    The early voting in conjunction with school/social events is leaving a bad taste in most people's mouths. Next week, I will be driving my mother up to the business office at MHS. She will use her walker from the ouside curb down to the office and back again to the car. FYI-she now has two broken hips. That is what early/absentee voting is supposed to be about-the voter making the extra effort by mail or visit to obtain his/her ballot. Regardless of which side prevails on Feb. 1st, this outlandish approach to early voting polling places will only leave an atmosphere of mistrust and lack of respect for the school district. The opportunity to vote is not only a right but a responsibility that speaks of proper respect for the process. The opportunity for absentee voting is available at the school business office. That is where it should be done period. Anything else shows a lack of proper judgment.

  9. Jim Shafer 2011.01.15

    I offered you a copy of the letter you asked for, now you are rejecting it. You need to make up your mind on this instead of asking for things that in your mind must be conspiracy laden.
    The High School lunchroom has been used several times in the past for activities, not parties, that are for other than High School reasons. This will not be the first Bingo day. If you really need to know, the letter says.................never mind, it appears that are not really interested in the letter.

    No where on the letter does it state that if you decide to exercise your right to vote, you can only do so if you vote YES, and it surely does not say if you intend to vote NO, you can't vote, play, or attend and watch. Bring your wife and daughter, enjoy some family fun, and possibly win a prize or two.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.01.15

    Jim, I don't think Linda (nonnie) is rejecting the letter. I'd love to see a copy myself. Can you send me one?

    And I don't think the issue is whether the letter explicitly offers a quid pro quo for a vote one way or the other. I don't think that matters. Secretary Gant will tell you that state and federal law forbid offering anything of value to induce people to vote, regardless of how they vote.

    Suppose I wanted to get more people to vote in a Lake Herman Sanitary District election. Suppose I was totally agnostic about the outcome; I just wanted to get people to get invovled and cast a vote. If I hired a band to play at the voting center to encourage people to come, that would be an inducement, and I'm thinking that would be illegal.

    But see for yourself: the relevant statute on "inducing" votes is SDCL 12-26-15.

  11. Rod Goeman 2011.01.15

    There are no conspiracies, no inducements, no crowd targeting during this election. Nonnie should restrain herself from creating all these assumptions with no facts to back them up. The simple truth is this. Seating in the grade school for a PTO fund raiser is children's seating, where the High School lunchroom has adult-size seats. The other truth in this election is that those opposed to the rennovation project fail to recognize that 60% of the voters must support the project for it to pass. A super-majority is required to pass this. You are assuming that every taxpayer who attends a PTO event, a ball game or walks into the Business Office supports the project. Just because you enjoy sporting events doesn't automatically mean you enjoy paying higher taxes. As a taxpayer, I am thankful the Business Office is willing to offer so many potential voters an opportunity to vote at multiple locations/events. The results of the election are not predetermined, and while the tour certainly shows the need for the project, the district really wants people to vote. This is a community project that directly affects how Madison Central is perceived as an education center.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.01.15

    Rod, if this early voting is offered in such honest civic spirit, then I will expect the school district and education foundation to cooperate in offering early voting stations at school events for the school board election. I look forward to thusly testing the school's commitment to expanded voter enfranchisement in March.

  13. Mark O'Loughlen 2011.01.15

    They (I use they, because I don't know who is behind this) really dropped the ball on this one. The tours and public information was a great idea and from what I understand, was getting a positive response from people.

    If they (sorry again) would have stuck with that, I'm sure this would have a chance. But once again, people have to push things to the max to get what they want, and now I'm sure the voters of the district will be turned off, not so much by the need for the project, but rather by the methods used to acheive the goal.

    With the 60% hill to climb, I would be suprised this passes, unless they (sorry) got a bunch of DSU students registered to vote.

    Perhaps the State of South Dakota needs to evaluate how education is funded and how to generate revenue without such a heavy burden on the property tax system. From my friends in the oil and gas business, South Dakota is on the radar for the next energy boom. The question is, will the state take advantage of this (look at Wyoming), or will it be another backroom deal with special tax benifits to the interested parties. If history prevails, the people of South Dakota will suffer once again.

  14. Michael Black 2011.01.15

    There is a forum on Monday night at the MHS Auditorium

  15. Michael Black 2011.01.16

    We have two weeks before the election. If you haven't taken the tour yet, go on it and listen to the plan. Go to the forum. Ask the tough questions. Think about the issues. Decide if the you can support the plan as presented. Go vote on February 1st.

    The need for updating the building is clear. There is a significant cost in either outcome. If the bond issue passes, taxes will go up in a city where good jobs are hard to come by and household budgets are tighter than ever before.

    If the bond issue fails, a year will lost in the construction cycle. Costs will go up and interest rates will rise for any future project.

    Attracting new businesses and retaining current ones depend on a strong education system. Doing nothing might cost more in lost opportunities than the increase in taxes.

    If you think the benefits are worth the additional taxes vote for it. If you don't vote no.

    Passions are running high about the early voting, but it's a distraction from the real issue at hand.

  16. nonnie 2011.01.16

    The real issue at hand is how much property taxes will go up and for whom.

    Ag land levy for school fund is total $7.50 per $1,000 valuation. With this proposal it will rise to $9.50 per $1,000 valuation, a 26.5% increase.

    Owner occupied levy for school fund is $9.047 per $1,000 valuation. With this proposal it will increase to $11.047 per $1,000, a 22% increase.

    I don't have the business figures now.

    Couple this with increased taxes for utilities (electricity, garbage, water) in and outside of Madison, increased gas prices, increasing prices of food, possible state aid to education cut and a probable request for another opt out.

    Madison does have a strong education system. According to the 12-3-10 Madison Daily Leader, the statistics for the 2009 graduating class showed they did very well.

    And as for a new gym and renovated high school bringing in new jobs and opportunities, we heard that same argument for building a new middle school and a new elementary school. Where are those new jobs and higher wages? And where are the improved home values?

    There are some issues that need to be addressed. Fix those with a very small bond issue if necessary. I don't think there would be a problem with that. When the capital outlay fund is again freed up from its obligation to the elementary school, use that funding source to build a new gym and new or renovated high school. If we obligate ourselves now for $30 million for 25 years, at the end of that time the school will again be old, need repairs, or need a new building and we will be right back where we are now (but with a bigger gym!)

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.01.16

    Now there I do agree with Linda. it is irresponsible of us to commit this level of funding to a luxury gym and the rest of the building project before we have the final budget picture from Pierre. We need to vote this bond issue down, wait for the State legislature to decide whether it cuts K-12 by 10%, 5% or 0%, and then decide how much building we can afford alongside whatever tax increases are required to keep the general fund strong.

    Remember: the amount we'll spend each year just on the claimed $2.9M cost of the gym would (roughly) pay three teacher salaries, or $1000 cost of living increases for 100 staffers.

  18. Rod Goeman 2011.01.16

    Linda (nonnie), your statement surprises me. "The real issue at hand is how much property taxes will go up and for whom." Really? The only issue that matters to you is how much money you're going to have to spend? The current generation always pays forward for the next generation. Your grandparents and parents paid for your education and the buildings you attended. The real issue is not how much your property taxes are going to increase. The real issues are the quality and safety of our building, the educational environment, the air quality, the security and safety of our students, the opportunities for learning that our kids are missing right now. You're right when you say that in 25 years more repairs may be needed, but that is true of any home, business, farm or public structure. The $17 Million price scares me, just like it scares you, but I understand that if we spread it out among each of us over a long period of time at the lowest bond interest rate in history, it will cost most of us less than $20 a month. Those that own more property will pay more. Those who own business property will pay more because of the higher levy on commercial property. We have to consider the cost of waiting and how it would affect our educational product, environment, safety and students. Money is a factor, but not the "real issue" as you stated. The real issues are shown openly during the high school tour.

  19. nonnie 2011.01.16

    I guess I phrased that wrong, Rod. But your statement, "that if we spread it out among each of us over a long period of time at the lowest bond interest rate in history, it will cost most of us less than $20 a month" shows what is at the core of this discussion. For you who will pay only $20 a month it isn't a big deal to build a new gym/renovated high school. I don't think there is a person in the district who would argue with that. The fact is that there are many people who will pay $200 a month and go up from there. And that does not translate into these particular people being rich; it is simply that they own property necessary for their occupations. Property taxpayers ARE already paying for the present generation plus the coming generation and are concerned with education. Please don't accuse people against this proposal as being against education, because that is untrue. As I said above, fix the necessary problems with the school with a small bond, which most people would probably support. Save the "wants" until they can be paid for with the capital outlay fund.

  20. Michael Black 2011.01.16

    Farmland has been selling at a premium at every auction. The real world price of a quarter of ground could approach 3/4 of a million dollars. Add up all of the land it takes for one farmer to make a living and you are into the millions. In contrast, houses across the nation have dropped in value. It's difficult to reconcile the reality of how high the tax increases will be on individual farmers working the land. We all know that farmers struggle as much as any of us trying to make a living yet the fact remains that land is worth a great deal of money. The small farm is gone along with the families with kids that worked them. We see nothing now but open fields where there once were multiple homesteads on every section. Farms used to contribute far more kids to the school's population base. So we end up with a situation where taxes are being paid on land where no children live.

    I have no ideas on how to fix anything of this, but I do understand the position farmers are put in when looking at the bond issue payback. And none of this lessens the importance of remodeling the school.

  21. snapper 2011.01.17

    I'm more concerned about Gant's hiring of Aaron Lorenzen to take Kea Warnes job. Kea had years of experience in that office and Lorenzen is a political hack who basically talked legislators from D23 into supporting his appointment as county Auditor in Faulk County to fill the vacant position. So he then ran for office and won but the dude as 5 months of experience and is 22ish years old.

    I question Gant on this one. How do you hire a 23 year old to take that position.

  22. snapper 2011.01.17

    It's all because he was an intern in Pierre last session. Gant has turned that office into the one that is being watched the closest of all constitutionals. Good people little experience.

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