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Going To The Polls Even When You Can’t Vote

Kevin Woster
Kevin Woster poses next to a “vote here“ sign.

Unlike 87 percent of eligible voters on Tuesday, my wife and I turned out to vote in the Rapid City school board election.

And we didn’t even have anybody to vote for.

We didn’t know that when we strolled a few blocks through the 94-degree heat to our local polling place. Only when we walked in with driver’s licenses out and ready did one of our neighbors, a poll worker, explain with a grin.

The only contest on the ballot was the Area 1 school board race between Natalie Slack and Deb Baker. We planned to vote for Slack. But we’re in Area 5 for school board elections, and our representative on the board, Clay Colombe, wasn’t up for reelection this year.

There weren’t any other slots on the ballot.

Baker beat Slack. And overall conservatives carried the day in wrapping up seats on the board. That will make the board less balanced and more likely to come in conflict with administration officials, teachers’ unions, and progressive educators.

I like balance in elected bodies, whether in Congress, the South Dakota Legislature, the city council, or the local school board. Balance makes for better deliberation, more attempts at reasonable compromise and better representation of the public taxpayers.

It’s hard to get balance on any elected body with a 12 percent voter turnout. Which is, well, dismal. Pitiful. Sad. And kind of un-American.

That kind of turnout typically means the zealots dominate. Because the zealots are the ones who never fail to get out and vote, encourage others to vote, knock on doors, stand on street corners and drive around town with banners flying.

Meanwhile, the slightly slumbering mass of humanity somewhere this side of zealotry gets caught up in late duties at work, evening kids’ events, chores around the yard. Or just happens to forget during the rush of a day.

There’s a lot of stuff on people’s daily agenda these days.  Important stuff. But choosing the make-up of your local school board is pretty important, too. So is the direction and philosophy of your local school system. So, especially, is the broad-based education of your local school students.

That’s why Mary and I turned up to vote on Tuesday, even though we didn’t actually get to. It was our fault for not following the election closely enough. We’ve had a bunch of other things to occupy us, including trips out of state for some medical care. 

That’s no excuse for not staying well informed to know we didn’t have a vote to cast. But in our defense, we didn’t have to be too well informed to know this: Showing up on Election Day matters. It matters a lot. That’s why we make it a priority.

We felt good just showing up and had a nice chat with poll workers.

And, heck, next time we’ll probably actually get to vote.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.