Thursday, April 10, 2008

Four Year School Board Terms Go To Governor

Four Year School Board Terms Go To Governor

The school election this September 9 may be the last one in a general election year, if Governor Culver signs the election bill that passed the Iowa Senate this week.

House File 2620, which passed the House March 24, would lengthen school board terms from three years to four, and includes several other election items.

The four year terms would begin with the 2009 school election. Each school district must adopt a transition plan by August 1 of this year. Districts vary between electing members at large and by districts, and the dates of term expiration must be settled.

The bill faced some opposition from school officials, who were concerned that a board majority could turn over at one election. However, that has long been the case for city councils and county boards of supervisors.

County auditors were supportive, as it will eliminate even-year school elections held less than two months before general elections. The bill is also seen as a money saver. Iowa City School Board member Patti Fields estimates the change will save a million dollars a year statewide.

Auditors will also get a break on the number of special elections per year, as the bill limits the dates that cities, counties, and school districts can hold special elections. Cities and counties would largely be limited to the first Tuesday in March, May or August, while school districts would be able to go in February, April or June. 46 days notice would be required for a special election, an increase from the old standard of 32 days. Hurry-up special elections to fill vacant offices, such as a mid-session legislative vacancy, would still be possible.

This fall's school election would also be the first election that will allow counties to set up "voting centers." That would let voters cast ballots at any polling place in their jurisdiction, and not just the precinct where they live. HF2620 limits voting centers to smaller turnout elections and excludes primary and general elections. The provision is seen as a way to test the voting center concept before potentially trying it in a larger election.

The bill also codifies the lawsuit settlement between the secretary of state's office and the Green and Libertarian parties. That settlement established "political organization" status for minor parties, so voters can register with those affiliations.

And in a change that may have an impact on the November election, new restrictions would be placed on challenges to voters. Blanket challenges to whole groups of voters would be barred -- each challenge must be made individually. Frivolous challenges would become an aggravated misdemeanor. In 2004, the Republican Party challenged thousands of voters, with their biggest effort in heavily Democratic Johnson County.

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