Bonds play role in record school election turnout in Johnson and Linn Counties

Officials hope trend continues for November city elections

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Bond measures played a key role in Tuesday’s school elections as districts with bonds on the ballot saw near record-breaking voter turnout.

In the Iowa City Community School District, nearly 23 percent of voters took to the polls to elect four new members to the school board and pass a $191.5 million facilities bond — the state’s largest school bond ever. The bond passed with 65 percent approval.

Tuesday’s 16,700 votes nearly doubled the county’s regular school election record of 8,733 votes set in 2013. The previous record for a regular election with a bond item on the ballot was set in 1995 with 5,814 votes.

“This one destroyed every record,” said John Deeth, election technician with the Johnson County Auditor’s Office.

In nearby Clear Creek Amana Community School District, nearly 20 percent of voters turned out at the polls to pass a $36 million bond geared to facilities updates. That bond passed with 71 percent approval.

The district’s former record for a regular board election, about 700 votes in 2000, was more than doubled Tuesday when 1,744 votes were cast. The best turnout on record in the district took place in February 2006, when 2,447 voters took to the polls.

“To me, the turnout in Iowa City and Clear Creek Amana are phenomenal,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said Wednesday. “When you see a total turnout of almost 20 percent for a school election, that’s pretty unheard of. ... I think the bond issues really drove turnout.”

But not all bonds on Tuesday ballots were successful. Voters in Linn County’s Linn-Mar Community School District came out in droves to deny the district’s plans for an $80 million bond to build a new elementary school and renovate several existing schools.

The bond failed to reach the 60 percent supermajority approval needed to pass as more than 5,800 votes were cast, making for a roughly 21.3-percent voter turnout.

The district’s average school election turnout from 1990 through 2015 has been 4.1 percent, according to data from the Linn County Auditor’s Office.

Becky Stonawski, Linn County deputy commissioner of elections, said the office had prepared for a high turnout, but still underestimated in Tuesday’s vote.

“We had to run out extra ballots multiple times to Linn-Mar,” she said.

To compare, Cedar Rapids Community School District had two contested board member races, but no bond measure on the ballot. Only 4.4 percent of registered voters turned out at the polls. The average for a school election is between 5 percent and 8 percent, Stonawski said.

However, while districts facing bond measures dominated voter turnout numbers, Mount Vernon Community School District voters didn’t have a bond to weigh in on, yet the district saw voter turnout reach nearly 18 percent — a total of 851 votes. An average district election sees about 300 votes.

District secretary Matt Burke said in an email that a contested board race, which included some late arrival write-in campaigns, drove up voter interest.

Stonawski and Weipert said they hope to see a level of momentum built in Tuesday’s election carried on to the November city elections.

“We are expecting a very good turnout in November,” Stonawski said.

The candidate filing deadline for city elections is 5 p.m. Sept. 21.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

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