SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Greg Jamison is optimistic future local school board elections won’t have such low voter turnout.
Jamison, a Republican Rep. for District 12 in Sioux Falls, first noticed an issue with low voter turnout when he was elected to the Sioux Falls city council in 2008. He said when school board elections were not held in conjunction with the city of Sioux Falls or the state, voter turnout would plummet.
On Tuesday, the Sioux Falls School District held an election for the school board that had a voter turnout of 6.17%. There were 7,649 voters that cast ballots from a possible 123,885 registered voters. The 6.16% voter turnout was actually an increase from the May 2021 school board election which had a turnout of 5.13% for two seats. The Harrisburg School District had a 4% voter turnout for a bond election in September 2022
“Even the school districts determined a long time ago that they knew they had a problem of voter turnout,” Jamison told KELOLAND News. “The power is still left within school boards and districts to decide instead of the legislature forcing it.”
Jamison was the prime sponsor of House Bill 1123 which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kristi Noem. It’ll officially take effect July 1 and the nine-section law allows school boards to modify term lengths from one to four years to have school board terms match with joint elections.
Dawn Marie Johnson, who won Tuesday’s election, will serve a three-year term that ends in 2026. That election will be held in conjunction with a city of Sioux Falls election.
Tory Stolen, a spokesman with the SFSD, told KELOLAND News the district plans to change school board member term lengths and future elections will coincide with city, municipal or state primary elections.
“In the past, other legislators have proposed a specific date that the election will be held on,” Jamison said. “That kind of control created problems for school boards and all over and others around the state.”
HB-1123 specifically says school district elections “shall be held between the second Tuesday in April and the third Tuesday in June between the hours of seven a.m. and seven p.m. of the day of the election.” Jamison said holding joint elections should both improve voter turnout and save money.
When the new law takes effect in July, Jamison school districts will need to give public notice about changes to the terms of school board members. Jamison said the reason school boards have held stand-alone elections goes back to a separate government body operating in its own way.
“We see a better turnout when there’s more people involved in the election versus just one like we just had,” Jamison said. “There’s a lot of changes that need to happen in order for the elections to time up better with municipal elections in even years. But the intent is to get to that day when those joint elections occur and voter turnout is improved and money is saved.”
School, city, county and state elections follow different procedures
Tuesday’s election was run by the Sioux Falls School District, which was responsible for counting all the ballots. The results were reported on the school district website.
Voters, people who live in the SFSD, could vote early at the Instructional Planning Center or at any of the 13 voting centers from a SFSD map.
Not all City of Sioux Falls residents live within the boundaries of the Sioux Falls School District. If you live in another school district, you can’t vote in the Sioux Falls School Board election.
Many of the voting centers used by the SFSD are also voting centers for other elections run by the city, county or state. Those elections are run through the Minnehaha County auditor’s office and not the SFSD.
On Tuesday, Minnehaha County auditor Leah Anderson said her office is making precinct boundary changes and looking to add six to eight new polling locations for the 2024 elections.
“We would like to see our precincts be more equal with smaller numbers,” Anderson said.
She said she hopes to have Election Day changes, including half and full-day options for election workers. Anderson said she wants to have polling locations “greeters” and “problem solvers” to minimize voting line delays.