116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Linn County voters could be poised for a special election this fall to decide how they elect county supervisors.
Kevin Kula of Coggon, who last year collected signatures forcing a vote on the size of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, is coming back to the county on Thursday with a petition signed by nearly 12,000 people, asking for a special election on how the supervisors will be elected - either by district or at-large.
Kula has spent months collecting the signatures, but he is now getting some help recently from Supervisor James Houser, the District 1 supervisor.
Houser said he's been collecting signatures for more than a week. And while those names will be added to Kula's list, Houser said he is working independently.
'I'm not part of any organized campaign, I'm doing it on my own,” he said.
Houser said he started collecting signatures because of the dissatisfaction he's heard from constituents on the current representation plan, which sees voters in each district voting for a supervisor who lives in that district.
Another option would be for voters countywide to vote for supervisors who live within specific districts.
A third option would have all three supervisors elected at-large, with voters countywide voting on all the candidates and doing away with districts.
Houser, who has spent time as both an at-large and as a district supervisor, said he wishes to see the county return to at-large representation.
'My position is, I just think it's the right thing to do, to allow the vote to happen, and my personal preference is countywide at-large,” he said. 'I've had so many people say to me, ‘We want to be able to vote for everybody.' ”
Supervisor Brent Oleson of Marion, who said he was a little surprised to hear that Houser was collecting signatures, has long argued against returning to at-large voting. County residents about 10 years ago voted to switch from three at-large supervisors to five district supervisors.
'We worked so hard to get the current plan,” he said. 'If you're from Marion or any place outside of Cedar Rapids, of course you want districts.”
Voters in November chose to reduce the county board from five to three supervisors. That forced creation of a temporary redistricting committee to map out three districts.
On May 15, Linn supervisors appointed five members to that committee - Ray Dochterman, Cindy Golding, Sarah Halbrook, Dave Mahachek and Nate Willems.
Per Iowa law, Supervisor John Harris, the only Republican on the board, selected two members of the committee, while the four Democrats - Houser, Oleson, Stacey Walker and Ben Rogers - chose the remaining three.
In that meeting, Houser's two recommended appointments were denied by the other supervisors.
Oleson said he believes that meeting played a role in Houser's choice to collect signatures and seek an at-large representation plan.
'This is just about Jim supporting the best chance he has,” Oleson said.
Houser denies that meeting influenced his decision to collect signatures.
'I really honestly think the fairest plan is at-large,” he said.
If the petition is handed in before 5 p.m. Thursday, the Linn County Auditor's Office will have five business days to verify signatures, which entails checking for duplications or errors. The petition also will be open for public review.
In addition, Darrin Gage, Linn County director of policy and administration, said if the petition signatures are verified, the temporary redistricting commission will hold off on any district mapping until after an Aug. 1 special election.
Stonawski estimates the election will cost as much as $250,000 and an additional $50,000 to acquire electronic pollbooks and other equipment needed to update polling places to adhere to new state voter identification rules.
In November 2018, Linn County voters will select three supervisors to take office Jan. 2, 2019.