Beware of voter fatigue in Iowa City this fall.
The City Council voted unanimously last week to call a special election to fill the vacancy left when Kingsley Botchway resigned to take a job at the Waterloo Community School District. The special election will be held October 2, barely a month before the regularly scheduled county, state and federal elections in November.
City leaders had the option to appoint a new member, but wisely chose instead to let voters pick. It was a fitting decision for a community which prides itself on democratic representation and civic engagement.
Even though time is short, we hope to see a spirited and substantive debate between candidates on the issues facing Iowa’s fifth-largest city. Voters should make their voice heard and fend off any urge to succumb to election burnout.
Unfortunately, state law left the city with no ideal options for scheduling the special election. The October 2 contest — the last possible date before the required blackout preceding the November 6 general election — gave candidates just one week to gather the 128 signatures required to get on the ballot, and less than two months to campaign before the election. It will cost the city an estimated $60,000 to hold an election and primary this year.
The other option available to the city was to call an election for next January, after the general election blackout, leaving the seat vacant for nearly six months and depriving Iowa City residents of full representation as the City Council considers several important issues in the coming months.
The city would have saved money and boosted turnout by combining the special city election with the November general election, but the Iowa Legislature recently took away that option. House File 566, signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad in 2017, banned cities and school districts from combining their special elections with general elections.
That may seem ironic, since the primary motivation behind the bill was to combine city and school elections, all in the spirit of saving money and boosting turnout in local elections. Instead, overstepping state legislators made yet another dent in local control, and set up the tricky scheduling situation in Iowa City this year.
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Iowa lawmakers should reconsider their decision to take that option away from cities. In the meantime, Iowa Citians should make the best of an inconvenient situation by tuning in to the abbreviated City Council campaign season.
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