Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Voters Head to Polls for School Election

Voters Head to Polls for School Election

With only eight weeks to go before the presidential election, Iowans are going to the polls today for school board elections.

It's the last time that will happen in a presidential year. Changes in state law take effect in 2009, and school board elections will be held every other year in odd-numbered years, rather than every year.

As part of the transition, some districts will have short terms on the ballot. For example, Clear Creek Amana voters will elect two members to three year terms and one member to a one year term. In Urbandale, where two candidates are running for two seats, the candidate with the most votes gets a three-year term, and the other candidate will get a one year term. Urbandale also decided to lengthen the terms of three members elected in 2007 from three years to four, another option under the law.

School elections have several quirks setting them apart from other elections. Many voters have a different polling place then in other elections. Part of that is because school district lines are a cartographer's nightmare, based on where people wanted to send their children to school in 1960 when the old township schools were consolidated into school districts. Many districts also consolidate precincts for school elections to save money, as districts pay for their own elections.

School election turnout is usually the lowest of all elections. A hot funding issue, however, can boost turnout to near-gubernatorial levels in the 40 to 50 percent ballpark, but unless money is involved single digit percentages are the norm. The Des Moines Register reports that the Des Moines school district is having a hotly contested race between eight candidates for three seats, and that Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald is expecting 10 to 12 percent turnout. That's considered high.

Turnout dips even lower for uncontested races. There are no contested races at all in Scott County's four main school districts.

Sioux City and Council Bluffs will each see four candidates seeking two seats. Iowa City will see four candidates seeking three seats, which in a vote for three election can lead to the seeming mathematical paradox of a candidate winning support from more than half of the voters, yet finishing last and losing.

Cedar Rapids has two candidates for one at-large seat, and two unopposed candidates for two district seats, but the election is overshadowed by the flood. 11 polling places were affected by the flood, and the auditor has set up 20 "voting centers" within the Cedar Rapids school district, where any voter within the school district can vote. The voting center provision, along with election day voter registration, are new under state law.

Northeast Iowa Community College and Southeastern Community College district voters will vote on whether to renew a 6-cent levy per $1,000 taxable valuation. And voters in nearly 60 districts, including Council Bluffs, Keokuk, West Des Moines, Ankeny, Urbandale and Dallas Center-Grimes, will consider how to spend their portion of a one cent statewide sales tax for school infrastructure.

Most larger districts open the polls at 7 a.m., while some small districts don't open until noon. All polls close at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than in a general election.

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