Voter turnout in first combined city/school elections falls short of expectations

Secretary of State Paul Pate says Tuesday's results 'a step in the right direction'

Precinct election official Jean Schultz helps a voter with paperwork Tuesday at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City.
Precinct election official Jean Schultz helps a voter with paperwork Tuesday at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City. Voter turnout in the first combined city/school elections statewide fell short of expectations, with 16.58 percent of registered voters casting ballots. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowans went to the polls by the hundreds of thousands this week to vote in combined city and school elections for the first time, but the turnout did not live up to expectations.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate reported unofficial totals Wednesday indicating that more than 356,000 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s elections. The statewide turnout was 16.58 percent of the 2,149,797 Iowans who were eligible to vote.

“Overall, I’m pleased with how the first city/school elections went across the state,” Pate said in a statement. “As Iowa’s voter registration totals continue to soar, I believe turnout in these important local elections will follow that trend and Tuesday was a step in the right direction.

“We will now be working with county auditors to conduct post-election audits” added Pate, who serves as the state commissioner of elections. “That’s another important layer of protection we added to the process to help ensure the integrity of the vote.”

While Tuesday’s election — also the first for Iowa’s voter ID law to be in full effect — did not meet Pate’s expectation of a record turnout topping 35 percent, two of the state’s 99 counties exceeded that threshold.

Turnout in Sac County stood at a state best 37.87 percent, while Fremont County hit a 35.4 percent turnout. Locally, Linn County’s turnout was 14.39 percent and Johnson County’s was 12.48 percent. While Polk County just missed a 20 percent turnout, a total of 49,595 voters cast ballots — the most of any county.

Heading into Tuesday’s balloting, Pate said Iowa typically would see between 4 percent and 15 percent turnout for municipal and school board elections before the new combined format.


Pate’s staff joined county, state and federal partners to monitor cybersecurity activities throughout Election Day, and the secretary of state reported no increase in cyber alerts or activity on the state or federal level.

On Wednesday morning, Pate’s office randomly chose one precinct in each county for a post-election audit — a provision implemented as part of the Election Integrity and Modernization Act passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2017.

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