116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Gazette Editorial Board
A new voting process for the Cedar Rapids school election could not only save money but, more important, attract more voters to cast this often-overlooked ballot.
That's why we like Linn County Election Services' idea of replacing dozens of polling places with five voting centers for the next month's Cedar Rapids Community School District school board election.
Previously, Cedar Rapids district voters cast their ballots at one of 50 precinct polling places which the elections office must operate and staff. On Sept. 10, however, voters can vote at any of the district's four high schools, or the new Education, Leadership and Support Center.
The change is expected to save a chunk of change: In 2011, it cost nearly $30,000 to hold the school board vote. The upcoming election is expected to cost less than $10,000, officials have said.
And even though some voters will have to travel a little farther to cast their ballot than they would at a precinct location, we think the new sites, easier to remember and easily accessed, may well attract more voters than in recent years.
As in many other Eastern Iowa districts, Cedar Rapids school board elections historically have had shamefully low voter turnout. A measly 5 percent of registered voters turned out for in 2011, according to county elections records. Turnout in 2009 was less than 2 percent.
That means just a few thousand voters are choosing board members responsible for steering the district on some very big decisions concerning the education of the district's more than 16,700 students, the employment of more than 2,500 full-time employees, and an annual general fund budget of more than $180 million - about $70 million more than the City of Cedar Rapids general fund budget.
The numbers just don't add up.
Many voters don't seem to realize that public school boards are every bit as important - touching as many lives and managing mountains of public resources - as elected officials in local government.
This new system using fewer, highly visible and more accommodating voting sites is more than welcome if it can bump up voter participation by even a few percentage points.
l Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org or (319) 398-8262