Spirited School Board Election

Spirited School Board Election
Posted on 04/06/2018

The 2018 school board election in the School District of the Menomonie Area (SDMA) has easily been the most unique school-related election that I have observed in my 12 years as a superintendent in Wisconsin. The passionate campaigns of very talented and experienced candidates, coupled with a significant number of important issues facing K-12 public education, led to a high level of interest and participation from our community. Despite some differences of opinion that were identified by the candidates and their supporters throughout the campaign, it has been very encouraging to see so much passion and support for public education in the Menomonie Area.

Unfortunately, mistakes made in reporting the unofficial preliminary results of both the 2018 primary and general elections have put some candidates in an awkward position and created questions about the integrity of the entire election process. Upon finding errors in this week’s general election, the Board of Canvassers immediately contacted the precinct clerks to report the discrepancies, and in each case, the election official revised the results and confirmed the findings made by the Board of Canvassers. The results of these changes meant that Chris Freeman went from winning election to the school board by 22 votes based on the preliminary unofficial results, to losing the election to Penny Burstad by three votes, once the results were canvassed and certified.

During any school board election, the clerk from each election district calls on the night of the election to verbally report the results to the school district, media, and other reporting outlets. Then, in the days following the election, the official written tally sheets and computerized voting printout slips are reviewed by the Board of Canvassers that is appointed by the school board clerk. The Board of Canvassers that certified this year’s election results during a publicly noticed meeting held on Thursday, April 5, 2018, included SDMA School Board Clerk John Sobota and Menomonie residents Carla Klingfus and Jamie Krista.

According to what was reported by Sobota and the Board of Canvassers, in the case of the primary election in February, and again during the April general election, there were a few vote tallies that were incorrectly reported in the verbal communication between precinct clerks and the school district. In both instances, it is impossible to know if the number of votes was said wrong or heard wrong, but either way the unofficial results needed to be amended during the canvassing meetings. That particular error in the spring election increased vote totals for Urs Haltinner in Ward 11 (40 votes) and for Burstad in the Town of Spring Brook (5 votes).

The Board of Canvassers also reported that other errors were made which resulted in Burstad having more votes than Freeman in the final voting tally. These mistakes had to do with one precinct clerk making a mathematical error, and another election official making an error while transposing the number of votes from the computerized voting printout slips to the official precinct tally sheet.

In the Town of Spring Brook, instead of counting the votes from each of the two electronic voting machines and the listing of paper ballot results, the election official accidentally recorded the results of one of the voting machines twice, while leaving the paper ballot tallies out. Once the Board of Canvassers discovered this error, the results for all candidates were corrected and Burstad picked up ten additional votes on Freeman.

Then, in the Town of Weston, the official tally sheet listed Burstad as having received 16 votes on the electric machine and seven paper ballot votes, but the total votes listed for Burstad on the tally sheet read only 13. Once the arithmetic error was discovered, Bustad’s total was changed to 23, which put her three votes ahead of Freeman.  

After reviewing the amended results and hearing from the Deputy Clerk about the changes certified by the Board of Canvassers, Freeman informed the district that he would be conceding the election to Burstad. Therefore, the certified results indicate that Jim Swanson, Tricia Thompson, and Penny Burstad have been elected to three-year terms on the SDMA Board of Education.

No matter the final election results, the efforts of all candidates and their supporters are greatly appreciated, and everyone in the school district is encouraged to continue taking an active role in our schools. The school board typically meets at 5:30 pm on the second and fourth Monday of each month, and every agenda provides time for community communications. District officials are also looking forward to engaging all school district stakeholders in rewriting the school district’s strategic plan during the 2018-2019 school year, so hopefully there will be good participation from the public. There is no need to wait for the next school board election to have voices heard, as it always the district’s goal to do a great job aligning resources with the continuously changing needs and expectations of our community.

While the district administrator does not have a role in the certification of the school board election results, I was asked to gather information from the Board of Canvassers and provide a report to the community about what happened with this election. Should school families or community stakeholders have any questions or concerns related to the school board election, I invite you to contact a member of the Board of Canvassers, or visit me at the Administrative Service Center on Pine Avenue. More information about our schools can be found on the school district website (www.sdmaonline.com), and I regularly post school-related information on Twitter (www.twitter.com/sdmaonline) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/menomonie.schools).

*Thank you to John Sobota, Carla Klingfus, and Jamie Krista for serving on the Board of Canvassers and for contributing to this article.