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Don’t Drop Party Balance for Election Officials: Involve Kids in Elections!

Representative Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) says the party affiliation of local polling place officials doesn’t matter:

If there’s a shortage of workers, what difference does it make who is sitting there? You’ve got to have people working in elections, so it only makes good sense that we try to get as many interested people in there as possible [Rep. Lana Greenfield, opening remarks at Aberdeen crackerbarrel, 2019.02.02].

Rep. Greenfield’s poor choice of words reflects either carelessness or a Freudian slip on her banana-republicanism. The whole idea of free and fair elections is that we don’t want interested parties deciding who gets to vote and which ballots count. When we do have interested parties—i.e., strong partisans from either the Democratic or Republican party—asking to work at elections, we make sure we get someone from the opposite party to check and balance their interest.

That’s why we have SDCL 12-15-3, which requires that a precinct election superintendent be from the party whose gubernatorial candidate got the most votes in the last election but that each major party have representation on the precinct election board. That’s still pretty skewed balance, but it’s better than allowing the county auditor to appoint all of her friends from her party’s roster.

But even that balance is too much, says Rep. Greenfield, who speaks here about House Bill 1027, which would allow election chiefs to ignore the party distribution requirements if they are “unable to appoint” enough precinct officials. HB 1027 sets no standard for “unable”—no number of calls election officials have to make, no number of days election officials have to wait before appointing a one-party panel.

House Democrats chose not to fight on this issue: all 16 of them voted for HB 1027 on Tuesday. Had they joined the 20 Republicans who voted against it (including my Representative Carl Perry but not his District 3-mate Drew Dennert), they’d have stopped this bill.

We have before us a better solution. Instead of throwing out a commitment to a modicum of partisan balance, the Legislature should fuse this issue with its newfound civics-mania and allow—or maybe require—high school students to serve as precinct election officials. The best way to teach civics is through civic engagement (the second best is to have every student do high school debate). So let’s engage students to work at the polls. Fuse SB 52 and HB 1027 to enact the following provisions:

  1. Students must complete forty hours of community service to graduate from high school.
  2. Students may count training and working as precinct election officials in any local, primary, general, or special election toward their community service.
  3. Any statewide general election will be an official state holiday on which no schools will be in session and any employees required to come to work will receive overtime pay.

During four years of high school, students have two general elections, plus a school board election or two. They could complete their entire forty hours of service working at the polls. With so many kids to put to work, it should be easier to maintain party balance (and I’ll speculate that kids are less wedded to party identity than us grown-ups). Plus their youthful vigor will lead to faster service and faster vote counting!

So let’s hit the brakes on HB 1027. The proper response to less civic engagement is not to lower our standards; the proper response to engage more people in civics!


  1. Porter Lansing 2019-02-04 08:41

    I have an in-law in Iowa who’s a top muckity-muck in the Iowa Republican Party. She’s never financially needed to have a real job in her librarian career so guess what she does for volunteer work? She volunteers at the polls and does the census. I can only imagine how many worthy voters she’s disenfranchised in the last 40 years and how many minorities didn’t get visited, on purpose.

  2. PlanningStudent 2019-02-04 12:00

    I have spent hours on the phone trying to line up poll works in a rural county where it seemed as if everyone shared the same last name as half the candidates… It is doable, no need to change the party balance requirement. Just spend a little more time and effort.

    The idea of closing schools on election day has the added benefit of allowing more schools to become polling places. They are ideal locations because of location and accessibility but sometimes don’t work because of traffic flow and security issues with the general public and school children.

  3. leslie 2019-02-04 12:35

    16 Democratic (see how I did that Jason?:) legislators VOTED for voting restrictions????????????!???

  4. Debbo 2019-02-04 15:38

    I’m with you Leslie.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-04 18:36

    Thanks for that practical perspective, PS! It’s good to know there are citizens out there who will serve.

    Elections at the school—that’s perfect! The kids would know the building, would be better able to help run for supplies, direct people to bathrooms, bring food from the kitchen, all that practical stuff that will make the day go easier for election workers and voters alike.

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