REGIONAL—N’West Iowa county auditors did not encounter too many problems during the state’s first-ever combined regular city and school elections.
Sioux County auditor Ryan Dokter expressed happiness with how the combined elections went, despite two minor issues early on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
“A ballot-reading machine needed the ‘done’ button pressed to be activated for the day in the Sioux Center Central/West Branch Precinct,” he said. “The second issue was in Sioux Center and Rock Valley.
“The computers the voters check in at needed to have the precinct name added to the declaration of eligibility forms, which we fixed quickly in those areas,” he said. “Everything went really well, though.”
O’Brien County auditor Barb Rohwer also thought the combined elections went well.
“It was interesting,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Rohwer noted there were no huge issues in O’Brien County.
“We had some folks going to the wrong polling place,” she said. “These folks are fairly regular school election voters and they went to the ‘old’ polling place.”
Osceola County auditor Rochelle Van Tilburg was pleased with how the combined elections turned out.
“I was concerned about voters going to the correct precinct, but that didn’t seem to be a problem, and voters remembering to bring their ID, which also didn’t seem to be a problem,” she said. “We didn’t have any major issues; for the most part, everything went really good.”
Lyon County auditor Jen Smit noted there were no problems in her precincts.
“It went smoothly here in Lyon County,” she said.
Dokter called the combined elections “complex.”
“It takes a great attention to detail to make sure we have planned for each and every scenario,” he said.
Dokter noted his office has learned from the minor issues it ran into and “will provide additional training and will adjust any processes we can to prevent these types of issues in the future.”
Rohwer expects the combined elections will be easier the next time they are held.
“We have the experience now,” she said. “I usually go back to my past files to look at ballot templates and number of ballots to order. Now that I have this history, it will be a quicker process in 2021.”
Van Tilburg explained what her office learned from the combined elections.
“We have to have a different mindset when it came to ballot styles, but once we had it figured out, it made sense,” she said.
For Smit and her office, “each election, no matter the type, always make us better.”
The reason for the combined elections is an Iowa law approved in 2017 that requires regular school elections to be held in November on the same day as regular city elections.
That legislation, which went into effect in July, was passed in an effort to encourage increased participation from voters in low-turnout school elections. The unofficial voter turnout in Sioux County was 20.62 percent, which was 4,603 voters out of 22,326.
“I thought the turnout would be somewhere between 12 and 15 percent, so it was a bit higher,” Dokter said. “I was really not surprised by that number as there was a contested mayor and council race in Orange City and a few other races did not have a full ballot, so write-ins played a part in those numbers.
“In my opinion, contested races always drive turnout,” he said. “When people get passionate about a candidate or an issue, people are more likely to vote.”
Rohwer agreed contested races drive voter turnout. In O’Brien County, the unofficial voter turnout was 21.98 percent, which was 2,136 voters out of 9,716.
“The turnout was about what I expected,” she said. “The areas where there are races normally generate more interest.”
Van Tilburg said the unofficial voter turnout in Osceola County was 16.49 percent, which was 691 voters out of 4,191.
“In 2017, the school election turnout was 4.06 percent, and the city turnout in 2017 was 29.86 percent, but Sibley had the pool bond issue on ballot so that is why I believe we had such a great turnout,” she said. “In my opinion, I think it is driven by contested races and/or any bond issues.”
Smit said the unofficial voter turnout in Lyon County was 16.98 percent, which was 1,366 voters out of 8,044.
“It isn’t too surprising as a couple cities and school districts had competitions on their ballots,” she said.
Rohwer noted voters will get more used to the combined elections as they experience them more in the future.
“Since this was the first time that the city and school elections were together, I think there was some confusion for the voters regarding polling places,” she said. “I’m sure as these elections continue, the voters will find that they like knowing they will always go to the same location to vote no matter what election it is.”
Dokter was grateful for all of Sioux County’s election officials, information technology staff and auditor’s office staff for their hard work and dedication to conducting elections.
“I am very grateful to work with all of these people and it is an honor to serve the public in this capacity as county auditor and commissioner of elections,” he said.
The results of N’West Iowa’s combined city and school elections remain unofficial until their respective county boards of supervisors canvass and approve them.
Lyon, O’Brien and Sioux counties have each scheduled two canvasses while Osceola County will only have one.
For Lyon County, its first canvass will be held Wednesday, Nov. 13, and its second one has been scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Osceola County’s only canvass will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12.
“Our county only has to have one canvass,” said Osceola County auditor Rochelle Van Tilburg. “I am controlling just for Sibley-Ocheyedan and that district does not go outside of Osceola County.”
Sioux County auditor Ryan Dokter explained how the canvassing process will work in his county.
“We will canvass the first tier on Wednesday, Nov. 13,” he said. “This will be the final canvass for cities and schools entirely within the boundaries of Sioux County.
“Following that, we send our totals to the control counties for the city of Sheldon and the schools that creep into Sioux County,” he said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 19, Sioux County will have its canvass for the school districts that Sioux County is the control county for, such as Boyden-Hull, MOC-Floyd Valley, Rock Valley and West Sioux, as well as Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon.
O’Brien County’s first canvass will be held Wednesday, Nov. 13.
“This will be the one and only canvass for all of the cities except Sheldon,” said county auditor Barb Rohwer.
The county’s second canvass has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 18, during which the supervisors will canvass the city of Sheldon again and as well as the Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn, Sheldon and South O’Brien school districts.
“The reason for the second canvass is that these entities have voters in other counties,” Rohwer said. “The law changed the way that we hold the city and school elections.
“Previously, if you had the most taxable value in your county, you were the control county,” she said. “The other counties send their voter lists to the control county and they conducted the entire election.
“Now each county is responsible for their voters no matter what school district they are in,” she said. “After the first-tier canvass, the non-control counties send their results to the control county to tally all the school or city votes and finish the official canvass.”