Under South Dakota’s open enrollment system, students can attend schools other than the district in which they live. But their parents remain residents of their home district, voting in its elections, not the districts where their children study.
On Wednesday, a legislative panel rejected a proposal to change that.
Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, had proposed letting parents vote in districts where their students study, though they would have to pick which district they’d vote in.
"It encourages the parents to be able to vote and participate and possibly run for the school board in the school where their children go," Begalka said.
Begalka said some open-enrolling parents identify much more with the school their children attend than the district in which they live, and should be able to get involved in the running of their children’s school.
But the proposal ran into a one-two punch of opposition. School representatives said Begalka’s idea was unfair, while Secretary of State Jason Gant and a county auditor testified it would be very difficult for elections officials to administer.
Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, noted that these non-resident parents would be able to vote on tax increases “even though they don’t pay taxes in that district, even though they have no property, and even though they would not be affected by that decision.”
Gant said it would be very complicated if elections officials had to deal with some citizens voting outside of their jurisdictions.
"The more information, the more ballot styles, the more complex that you make elections, it causes errors," Gant said.
Begalka said many of the criticisms were “red herrings,” but a majority of the Senate Local Government committee said the bill’s opponents raised valid concerns.
"This is really representation without local-effort taxation," said Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls.
The committee voted 6-1 to kill Begalka’s bill, Senate Bill 73.
The decision came a few minutes after the same committee approved a bill allowing non-residents to vote in a different type of election — the formation of road districts.
Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, said it was unfair that residents of an area could form a road district to tax all the land in an area without the consent or input of non-resident landowners.
His Senate Bill 65 redefines valid electors for a road district election as all landowners in the district, rather than registered voters as it is currently.
Landowners includes businesses and trusts that own land in the district.
The Senate Local Government committee approved the bill unanimously, though at the end of the day Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, expressed some worry about how far the state should go in de-coupling voting from residency.
"Where do we draw the line and why about where an absentee landowner can participate and have a voice, and where they can’t?" Tieszen said.
SB65 now heads to the full Senate.