Saturday, October 13, 2018

Johnson County Absentee Numbers So Far

Since everyone is asking and since I am OCD about numbers I am spending time on Friday night comparing Johnson County's absentee numbers to the last three governor years.

When we closed shop at 5:30 tonight, 25 days out, we had 11727 total requests. 8872 domestic mail, 230 overseas mail, 2438 at the office, and 187 at our opening day satellite.

Same day in 2014 we had 12198: 10150 domestic mail, 56 overseas mail, 1713 at the office, and 279 at satellites. Remember, that was with 12 days of office voting in 2014 and 2010, but only five days in 2018.

25 days out in 2010 we were at 12547: 7332 domestic mail, 93 overseas mail, 1257 at the office, and 3865 at satellites. Those numbers, like all Johnson County stats from 2010, are skewed by massive satellites on campus driven by the 21 Bar referendum.

2006 is such ancient history that it barely bears comparing: Just 5657 requests total, almost all by mail. Only 327 voters at the office in 12 days; we've seen more than that every DAY this week. Back then, the Republicans weren't even trying on the early vote; they were putting everything into their Bush era 72 Hour Plans for Election Day and teaching their base that early voting was "fraud." Terry Branstad put a stop to that in his 2010 comeback and the GOP returned to their big absentee mailings of the 90s.

So to sum up: Mail is behind 2014 but ahead of 2010, office is far ahead of past years despite fewer voting days, and satellites can't be fairly compared because of the unique situation in 2010.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The Voters Have Spoken And They Said, Meh

"I thought the compressed cycle and the shadow of the general election would lower turnout. But it appears that Iowa City wants to squeeze in a full-fledged city election cycle. The real loser may be the Democratic ticket as this city council vacancy sucks up a lot of energy in the most Democratic county." John Deeth, September 5 

Called that one wrong,

Instead, the lesson from Tuesday's abysmal (9%) turnout Iowa City special election is more basic and more universal: In local elections, a big field of candidates means more people out campaigning means more turnout.

Historically, turnout roughly doubles between an Iowa City primary and the final election four weeks later. But that's in a normal cycle, with six or eight candidates on the final ballot.

Tuesday, with two people on the ballot instead of the five from the primary, turnout was up just 229 people, from 3966 to the 4195 we had Tueday. Nearly all of that increase came in the absentees, which bumped from 490 in September to 666 Tuesday.



(I almost hate to tell people but we got three countable ballots in Wednesday's mail, ruining the 666...)

And most of that absentee gain was because the short early voting window was one day longer; the auditor's office was closed the day before the primary for Labor Day, and we saw about 150 voters this Monday. Only 53 more people showed up at the polls Tuesday than voted at the polls September 4.

That's unheard of between a city primary and a final city election. Again: turnout usually doubles. Tuesday's turnout falls below the record low for a regular cycle city election of 4685 (9.7%) set in 2009. That was both a yawner and a blowout that was decided on filing deadline day when townies Terry Dickens and Susan Mims drew unknown students as opponents.

This election was at least closer, with no obvious pattern or key to Bruce Teague's win. He consistently did just a little bit better than Ann Freerks across the city. In precincts with significant turnout (the student vote was negligible), Teague topped 60% on the southeast side (Twain and Grant Wood), in precinct 6 (Village Green and Town and Campus) 17 (the old City High precinct) and 24 (Windsor Ridge).  Freerks led Teague on the absentees and in precincts 4 (Manville Heights), 8 (the Weber area), 10 (south central part of town) and interestingly in precinct 21, the lefty Horace Mann precinct temporarily voting at St. Wenceslaus Church.

But turnout was down in precincts 17 through 21, the progressive and downtown core of the People's Republic. Some of the vote may have been a shift to early vote - no doubt some folks who usually vote early had the calendar sneak up on them in the primary and realized too late that there was no voting on Labor Day.

But more of that may have been the smaller field, and more to the point WHICH candidates were eliminated in the primary. And I don't just mean the "vote for my friend" people who were motivated to get out by personal ties to the defeated candidates, and then skipped the second round.

The groups that know the most about getting out voters in local elections are the old guard/townie/Chamber of Commerce faction, and organized labor and its allies. Labor was supporting Christine Ralston in the primary, but she trailed Teague by 18 votes. The Chamber's choice, Brianna Wills, was just behind in fourth place, while Ryan Hall, favored by the left of the left, was fifth.

That meant the groups who know the most about boosting turnout were largely bystanders in the second election. On the surface it seems that slightly more of the Hall and Ralston vote shifted to Teague (Hall posted on social media Monday that he had voted for Teague), but there's another layer here.

The organized groups had favorites but they also had "Anyone But" candidates. The Chamber's historic boogeyman has always been the prospect of a student on the city council (which hasn't happened since the early `80s), especially a student as left as Hall. Labor-liberal types, meanwhile, were opposed to the Chamber's favorite, Wills - and it was her total collapse in the progressive precincts that knocked her from second place to fourth in the primary.

But the two Unacceptable candidates were eliminated, reducing that kind of motivation. Survivors Freerks and Teague were more or less acceptable to most of the Every Election Voters who chose to participate.

Had Hall gotten through the primary, you would have seen the townies energized like they haven't been since the last 21 Bar election in 2013. And had Wills survived, labor might have gotten seriously involved, rather than setting this election aside in favor of general election efforts.

Those general election efforts, by everyone, were just getting a good start in late August during the primary campaign, but were in full gear by late September. Opening day for early voting is next Monday and would have been last Thursday if not for the change in the election calendar that was part of the voter ID law. (As much as I hate losing 11 days of early voting, overlapping voting periods for two different elections are a logistical nightmare.) While the primary campaign was briefly able to draw focus, Tuesday's election truly felt like an afterthought.

Or maybe a preseason game?

One thing I got right after the primary: "Wills and Ralston both came close enough to be credible for a 2019 run, when four seats are up." Add Ann Freerks, with a first in the primary and a credibly close second Tuesday, to that statement. We may look back on City Election 2018 as just the opening round of City Election 2019.