Government

Election Day updates: What's going on in Linn and Johnson counties

Gazette reporters talk with voters at precincts

In this year of firsts — first time for city and school board elections on the same day and first time for requiring identification to vote — The Gazette will be out talking with voters at precincts across Linn and Johnson counties to see how it’s going.

Did you have trouble at the polls? Was turnout higher than you expected? Please email Erin Jordan at erin.jordan@thegazette.com or call (319) 339-3157.

4:15 p.m., Coralville Precinct 5, Northwest Junior High

It would be hard for Mitch Gross, an incumbent Coralville City Council candidate, to avoid the Precinct 5 polling site. It’s right outside his office in Northwest Junior High, where Gross is assistant principal.

Gross hustled past after school, stopping to share a greeting in French with a poll worker, a retired French teacher. Meanwhile, a small, but steady stream of voters trickled into the polling site as the sixth-grade band played down the hall. Susa Ahmed, 22, of Coralville, was one of the younger voters Gazette reporters saw casting votes Tuesday. She was inspired by her professor for a Kirkwood Community College class called “Europe in the Age of Nationalism.” He encouraged students to get more active in local politics, she said.

“I think more elections should be combined” school board and city council, Ahmed said. “We could get more people voting.”

Ahmed didn’t mind showing ID to vote, but she remembers a couple of years ago when she didn’t have an ID.

“There was a time in the past when I didn’t have ID and that would have been a whole mess,” she said. “So I guess I’m against it (ID requirement).”

Michelle Ramsey-Moody 38, moved to Coralville recently from Illinois, which didn’t have a voter ID law.

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“I brought my license, but I didn’t know it was a thing until I got here,” she said after voting. If she had left her license at home and time was tight, Ramsey-Moody said she didn’t know whether she would have gone back home to get it. “I don’t think it’s an awful idea, but then people need to be able to get an ID for free,” she said. Iowa does provide voter ID cards to registered voters who don’t have driver’s licenses. In 2017, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office mailed out about 123,000 of the cards at a cost of $79,000 to the state, the Des Moines Register reported.

4 p.m. Cedar Rapids Precinct 23, Paul Engle Center

“Crickets” was the way Chairwoman Ann Tow characterized Precinct 23, located in the Wellington Heights neighborhood of Cedar Rapids. As of 4 p.m., 89 voters had cast a ballot so far. 1,834 people are registered to vote in that precinct, according to the Linn County Auditor’s Office.

But the voters who did visit the precinct Tuesday afternoon were hopeful that the combined city and school board elections would increase the turnout overall.

Tyler Walker, 35, said he’s not concerned about uninformed voters in the school board race, as there’s plenty of opportunity to learn about the candidates’ stances.

But Zuiko Redding, 75, is concerned that people may not actually inform themselves about the issues before casting their vote in a school board race. While she’s glad the combined races may increase turnout, she considers it a double-edged sword.

Tyler Walker and his wife, Annie Walker, 31, entered the Paul Engle Center Tuesday afternoon with the hope of voting for a more visible Cedar Rapids School Board. The board members are never seen in the schools themselves, Annie Walker said, and she hoped to elect members who would change that pattern.

Tyler Walker added that teachers need a visible school board with members that appreciate the work they have to do in the coming years.

“That’s really what it’s about,” said Walker, who is a high school teacher in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. “So many people in Cedar Rapids want to have good schools and want to have the kids taken care of.”

Redding also stated she had “serious doubts” about whether voter fraud is an issue in Iowa, and is not supportive of the voter ID law. She said she would rather see officials looking at issues around gerrymandering districts or the spread of misinformation to voters.

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“If we’re looking for voter fraud, we don’t need to look for it in the Paul Engle Center,” she said. “We need to look out for the more systemic warping of the electoral system. That’s what I’d rather see us spend our money on.”

3 p.m. Johnson County Voter Turnout

As of 3 p.m., the Johnson County Auditor’s Office reported 5,173 had voted Tuesday in the county. That’s about 5 percent of 95,175 registered voters. The office also will provide turnout updates at 6 p.m. and the final total after polls close at 8 p.m.

3 p.m. Linn County Voter Turnout

As of 3 p.m., 9,087 people voted in Linn County on Tuesday, which accounts for nearly 9 percent of the 153,673 registered voters, according to Linn County Auditor’s Office. The office will provide a final count when the polls close at 8 p.m.

11:30 a.m. Iowa City precinct 12, Alexander Elementary

A handful of voters cast ballots at this east side Iowa City precinct leading up to lunchtime Tuesday.

Jana Garrelts, 41, of Iowa City, loves to vote on Election Day, remembering going to the polls with her father when she was growing up in northwest Iowa. She knew to bring photo ID, but wonders if the new requirement will reduce voter turnout.

“For people without access, I could see it as a barrier,” she said. “As if we need more barriers.”

Jill Stephenson, 84, said she thinks Republicans pushed for the voter ID law to go into effect for 2019 so voters will be turned away this year and won’t come back to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

“It’s a way of trying to suppress voters by having them go through too many hoops,” she said.

But Stephenson, Garrelts and Ron McAvoy, 72, all thought combining school board and city elections makes sense.

“If you do both in the same year, it will cut down on costs,” McAvoy said.

11:15 a.m. Cedar Rapids Precinct 32, Calvary Baptist Church

Tuesday marked the first time 39-year-old Maggie Kpongo could vote in the local elections. Kpongo, who has lived in Cedar Rapids for five years, became a United States citizen last week. She’d previously held Belgium citizenship.

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Although voting in the United States was a new experience, showing identification at the polls was not. Belgians are required to show identification when voting. She supports the measure, saying its necessary to “make sure you are the person that’s supposed to be there.”

Kpongo experienced a brief hiccup, however, when a poll worker noted a discrepancy between her ID and her voter registration.

Kpongo said a U.S. immigration official had listed her middle name as her first name by mistake, and her documentation reflected the incorrect name. Although her voter registration card showed the correct name, her driver’s license did not and a new license had not arrived in time to vote.

But the issue was resolved by other poll workers, and Kpongo was able to vote.

“The reason I voted today was because I just believe that the more we vote, the more we let them know,” she said. “A problem we have is not going to get better if we don’t vote. It’s not going to change.”

Though this is the first time municipal and school board candidates would be placed on the same ballot, this certainly isn’t the first time Cynthia and Randy Fabor, 67 and 69 respectively, have voted for school board election.

As teachers, it’s always been an important election for the couple. Cynthia Fabor is a microbiology professor at Kirkwood Community College and Randy Fabor is a substitute teacher for the school district.

They say they support the combined election because not only makes sense fiscally, but they hope it would increase turnout. Even for voters who don’t have children or grandchildren attending school, it’s still important for residents to be invested in their local education system, Cynthia Fabor said.

“I mean local elections aren’t great but school boards are horrible for attendance,” she said.

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Both Cynthia and Randy Fabor did not vote in favor of candidates who were against the proposed facilities plan, which would start with a new Coolidge Elementary School, located less than a mile from the church where they cast a ballot on Tuesday morning.

“The schools are falling down, and they definitely don’t meet the technical needs that students have,” Cynthia Fabor said.

11 a.m. Johnson County voter turnout

As of 11 a.m., 2,595 people had voted Tuesday in Johnson County. This was 2.73 percent of the 95,175 registered voters, according to the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. The office also will provide turnout updates at 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and the final total after polls close at 8 p.m.

11 a.m. Linn County Voter Turnout

As 11 a.m., 8,987 people had cast a ballot in Linn County. That is a little less than 6 percent of the 153,673 total registered voters in the county, according to the Linn County Auditor’s Office.

In Cedar Rapids alone, 4,537 people had voted, or about 5 percent of the 89,418 registered voters, according to county officials. In Marion, 2,281 of the total 25,583 registered voters cast a ballot.

10:45 a.m., Iowa City Precinct 5, Kirkwood Community College

The polling site at Iowa City’s Kirkwood campus is right off a cafe where students sat eating pizza, chatting with friends and listening to disco standards like “Superfreak” and “Play that Funky Music.”

Dozens of students walked past the polling place, glancing at the volunteers before moving on. Two students said they didn’t plan to vote.

“I think I got an email about it,” said Kaylee Truitt, 19, of Wellman. But “I was running late this morning so I didn’t really look at it.”

Juwan Beard, 18, of Iowa City, said he plans to vote in the 2020 presidential election, but he doesn’t really know much about the City Council or School Board elections.

Three generations of Henke women came to Kirkwood for voting Tuesday. Susan Henke, 71, was accompanied by her daughter, Sara Henke, 43, and granddaughter, Star, 2. When Sara Henke finished with her ballot, she gave her “I voted” sticker to Star, riding in a stroller.

Susan Henke said she knew they would need their photo ID to vote and told her daughter to bring hers.

“I’m just hoping that doesn’t deter people from voting,” she said.

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10:15 a.m. Cedar Rapids Precinct 26, Grant Wood Elementary School

Both Mary and Wendell Aldrich, a married couple who voted in Grant Wood Elementary School on 26th Street SE, support the law that now requires them to show identification at the polls.

“I have nothing to hide, so why not,” said Mary Aldrich, 73.

Wendell Aldrich, 74, said he is in support of measures that divert voter fraud — a reason Secretary of State Paul Pate gave for the measure in 2017. Wendell Aldrich said he also supports this measure because it helps prevent believes people who are not people who are not citizens from voting.

However, Wendell Aldrich did state the process was “bureaucratic.” He had to state his name, his address and his birth date to the poll worker, in addition to writing it down.

“I just thought it was a little beyond what it needed to be to prove that I have a license,” he said.

But other voters, like David Langston, are very against the law. He stated it was “ridiculous to have as much barriers as we have to vote.”

Kimberly Smith, 42-year-old who walked to the polls this morning, found the measure to be inconvenient. She had forgotten her ID at home and had to go back for it before voting.

While Smith stipulates she has not done much research on the law and its potential effects, she said “my knee jerk reaction is that it’s not necessary.”

“I wonder what difference that makes for people who might not be driving anymore and don’t have the license in their wallet like I do,” Smith said.

8:15 a.m., University Heights

You don’t expect to hear an Episcopal priest swear, but Alice Haugen, 67, is furious about Iowa’s new law requiring voters to show ID at the polls because she thinks it disproportionately keeps people who are poor, elderly or who have disabilities from voting.

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“In the name of this non-issue of voter fraud, issues like this have been passed in many places,” Haugen said. “But the impact is completely unequal.”

Haugen showed her passport to vote at the University Heights precinct, where residents of the small enclave tucked into Iowa City are voting for the Iowa City school board and University Heights City Council, but she told a poll worker she was doing so under protest.

“African countries can use purple ink and make sure people only vote once,” she said, referring to countries that use indelible ink fingerprints to protect against voter fraud.

Russ Boyer, 57, on the other hand, was glad to show his driver’s license to vote, despite being recognized by name when he walked into the voting precinct.

“It’s no big deal,” he said. “In fact, I think it’s kind of a good deal. Maybe it stops some fraud.”

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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