The fight for voting rights remains as critical as ever. South Dakota politicians have historically engaged in voter suppression tactics that included adding obstacles to registration, cutting back on early voting, and pushing unnecessary voter identification requirements. That’s why it’s so important for people to get more involved in the political process.
Whether it’s volunteering with nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations, driving friends to the polls, or signing up to be a precinct worker, every effort has impact.
We spoke to folks in South Dakota who are passionate about being involved in local politics. Over the next few months, we’re highlighting their stories on our We the People blog series to show how everyone has the ability to change their community for the better. Bob Wendland spent time as a precinct worker in Sioux Falls during the 2020 primary election and shared his experience with us to educate his peers on the process. Wendland is an arts and theatre fanatic originally from Arlington, S.D., but can now be found enjoying the nightlife in downtown Sioux Falls with friends, his partner Luke, and great cocktails.
What made you want to get involved in the political process in South Dakota?
In the last 10 years I’ve realized more and more what a direct impact South Dakota politics and politicians have on my life and the lives of my neighbors. South Dakota’s political process has not been the most inclusive or transparent group of people and I hope that we are starting to see that change. When decisions are being made in Pierre by people who all think and look alike, there are so many people across are state that are not being adequately represented.
When did you first hear about the opportunity to volunteer as a precinct worker?
The connection was actually made through Leadership Sioux Falls. I’m a member of this year’s class and one of my classmates reached out with the invite from the Minnehaha County Auditor, Mr. Bob Litz, to participate. I saw this as a chance to directly impact the political process in my own neck of the woods and ensure that proper voting procedures were occurring and that people’s voices were being heard.
Any major takeaways from your first-time volunteering?
So many. The day was a long one, made even longer by the fact that we were voting in a global pandemic. It was eye-opening to see how much goes into the process such as the necessary prep-work, communications with voters, and the myriad questions throughout the day. The stacks of forms to fill out after polls close and the math that goes into those forms were also very new to me. It’s more complex than one would think at first glance, but it’s manageable -- although one little mistake could really throw off your counts at the end of the day. Being a precinct worker takes focus and diligence throughout the entire day.
Would you recommend volunteering as a precinct worker to your peers?
Without question! It’s imperative that we find more individuals who represent our entire community to show up and help at the polls. Participating in the political process can be daunting, but being a precinct worker is one of the easiest ways to dip your toe in the political process and to see if you’re ready to jump in head-first!
Why do you think it is important for people to vote and be involved in the political process?
It’s about representation. South Dakota is a very conservative state politically, but when you dig into the communities and pockets throughout our state, you start to find groups of people who are feeling wildly misrepresented and unrepresented. I believe that our state is broadly conservative, but the values of our conservatism are not reflected in national political platform. It also appears that this is a movement of younger people who are choosing to stay in South Dakota after high school and college to help effect positive change and influence momentum toward a more balanced representation that reflects ALL South Dakotans. Voting is one of the easiest ways to make sure your voice is heard. Communities across South Dakota are overdue for a transparent and qualified group of legislators and lawmakers in Pierre. Voting is the only way we’re going to make it happen.
What would you tell someone who thinks their vote doesn’t matter?
See above- haha! Honestly, in a state our size, every vote really can and does count, especially in local and statewide races. We’ve seen some very close races in the last several years -- races that had no business in being so close if you really believe South Dakota is such a conservative state. Your voice only has power in the political system if you vote. We live in a time where not plugging into the political process is irresponsible and even dangerous. Being passive just isn’t an option anymore.
What’s your 2020 General Election Day plan?
I’m hoping to find a spot at a polling place again. It was such an eye-opening and exhausting day, but in the end, it was entirely worth it. It was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. Being a part of the process, no matter how clunky and convoluted it was at times, was a great way to remind myself of the power of democracy.