Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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SULLIVAN'S SALVOS

June 25, 2011

Sullivan’s Salvos 6/28/11




In this edition:

*Independence Day
*Rural Voter Precincts
*Did You Know?




*Independence Day
Happy Independence Day! Please take a few moments this July 4th to reread some of the amazing history of this country. Unfortunately, a big group has been trying to rewrite our history books. That works only if you fail to know our history and discuss it!

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the festivities in Sharon Center, Morse, Coralville, Oxford, Hills, Iowa City, and every other place in Johnson County where fun activities are planned!




*Rural Voter Precincts
Johnson County will soon be looking at voter precinct boundaries. Here is some background:

As a result of the 2010 census, municipalities must redraw precinct lines. This is not just the job of the cities; counties do it, too.

Remember, Supervisors only set the precincts for the unincorporated areas. You may feel that Iowa City has too many (or too few) precincts, but Supervisors cannot make that decision. Iowa law leaves that decision to the cities.

There is one other law that comes into play here. Iowa law prohibits precincts from exceeding 3,500 in population. That means that the number of precincts in North Liberty (currently 2) MUST go up to at least 4. Coralville is faced with a similar predicament. So if we do not cut back somewhere else, taxpayers will have no choice but to pay for more Election Day expenses.

Johnson County has added rural precincts before. Ten years ago, population growth forced a split of Jefferson Township into Jefferson East (Shueyville) and Jefferson West (Swisher). Similarly, Solon was split away from Big Grove. (Tiffin had to be split from Clear Creek because of legislative lines.) It would not surprise me if Newport and/or Penn Townships had to be split after the 2020 census. Again, population growth would force these changes.

In my opinion, Johnson County needs to consider the efficiency of some of our smallest precincts. By sticking to township lines, I believe we are perpetuating an antiquated and expensive system, especially when one considers all the available options for early voting.

In addition, I am philosophically opposed to the use of private residences as polling places. I believe this creates unnecessary anxiety on the part of some rural voters.

One more point - There are guidelines from the state that push for precincts to be as close in population as is practicably possible. Johnson County fails miserably at this test. In many precincts, our cost per vote is outrageously high!

With all this in mind, I would suggest five major changes to the rural voter precincts. These are, in my order of priority:

1. Monroe: We should not be using private residences as polling places. There are (admittedly anecdotal) reports of voters who feel intimidated voting at this location. We have the additional costs of a porta-potty. All the residents of the township are accustomed to driving other places to do business – you cannot buy gas or groceries anywhere in the township. It is even on a gravel road, meaning it could be inaccessible in the case of any early snow. With 562 residents and 411 registered voters, this is only 16% of the Secretary of State’s recommendations for maximum precinct size. At $4.95 per vote, only ten precincts are more expensive.
Recommendation: Combine with Jefferson West (Swisher).


2. Lincoln: We should not be using private residences as polling places. We have the additional costs of rent and a porta-potty. All the residents of the township are accustomed to driving other places to do business – you cannot buy gas or groceries anywhere in the township. It is even on a gravel road, meaning it could be inaccessible in the case of any early snow. With 205 residents and 149 registered voters, this is the smallest precinct in Johnson County, less than 6% of the Secretary of State’s recommendations. At $12.68 per vote, this is the most expensive precinct in Johnson County.
Recommendation: Combine with Pleasant Valley or Fremont. (Vote in PV or Fremont.)


3. Pleasant Valley: All the residents of the township are accustomed to driving other places to do business – you cannot buy gas or groceries anywhere in the township. With 269 residents and 205 registered voters, this is the third smallest precinct in Johnson County, less than 8% of the Secretary of State’s recommendations. At $8.71 per vote, only two precincts are more expensive.
Recommendation: Combine with Lincoln or Liberty. (Vote in PV.)


4. Clear Creek: With 265 residents and 171 registered voters, this is the second smallest precinct in Johnson County, 5% of the Secretary of State’s recommendations. There is no good polling place in the township. Currently already voting in Tiffin. At $11.77 per vote, only one precinct is more expensive.
Recommendation: Combine with Tiffin. (Vote in Tiffin.)


5. Madison: With 399 residents and 325 registered voters, this is the fourth smallest precinct in Johnson County, about 11% of the Secretary of State’s recommendations. All the residents of the township are accustomed to driving other places to do business – you cannot buy gas or groceries anywhere in the township. There is no good polling place in the township. Additionally, most the population of Madison Township lives off of Scales Bend Road, which will likely be annexed into the City of North Liberty over the course of the next decade. Currently already voting in North Liberty. At $7.18 per vote, only three precincts are more expensive.
Recommendation: Combine with North Liberty. (Vote in North Liberty.)


These five changes would result in four fewer rural precincts, thus requiring less staff, less equipment, and less taxpayer money. These changes are important, as increasing numbers of precincts in North Liberty and Coralville will already be increasing the costs of elections. It costs $13,000 just to purchase the equipment for a precinct, not including staffing. Multiply this expense by 3 or 4, and you have paid for the equivalent of one FTE.

As you may know, the Auditor recently sent out a postcard polling rural voters on this matter. I have several issues with this poll. Here are just a few:

1. It is unscientific.

2. It is worded in such a way that results will be skewed. If I sent out a poll that said, “Do you want your taxes lowered?” what do you think the results would be?

3. The results have been reported in such a way as to skew the narrative. For example – The press release says “58% of respondents said they would vote on Election Day at another township or city, and 42% said they would vote early by mail or in person. But when asked if there were any chance that the closure might result in them not voting, 37% replied “yes”.”
Why focus on the leading (and misleading) question “Is there any chance you will not vote?” Why not focus on the fact that 100% reported they would vote in a different way?

4. The poll only went to rural residents. Elections are paid for by all property taxpayers. The opinions of all taxpayers matter here! People in Iowa City, Lone Tree, and every other city deserve the same opportunity for input.

5. Similarly, voters in East Lucas, Penn, and other precincts that already vote in cities were not polled. This would have undoubtedly changed the results of the poll.

6. The poll served its intended purpose – several rural residents are now scared, and fear that they will be asked to drive into Iowa City to vote. Now that they are upset, it will be difficult for the Board to find the political will to keep costs low.

7. Finally, just sending the postcard cost taxpayers over $1000, not counting all the staff time that went into creating it and tallying responses.

There are many options for people who wish to vote. They can vote by mail. They can vote early at a satellite voting site, including the Auditor’s Office. They can vote on Election Day at their designated polling place. A person who wants to vote has many options available to her.

My suggestions would not change any of these options. The only difference is that people who choose to vote on Election Day would drive to a different location. In many cases, the new polling place will be CLOSER to where they live. In most cases, it is a location they were more likely to be going in the first place!

This is a situation where leadership matters. The easy thing to do is decide to spend whatever is necessary so that no single voter is angry. That is a very easy thing to do. Then, when the budget discussions come around in the late fall, you pretend there is nothing you can do about these expenses.

Worse yet, Supervisors who vote to waste money in the area of elections may try to make up for it later, and feel the need to make deeper cuts during the actual budget discussions. Then the cuts come from programs that help our most disadvantaged citizens.

As I noted, the campaign of misinformation has already begun. There are folks on the phones and in the coffee shops talking about how the Supervisors “hate the rural people”, and “want everyone to vote in Iowa City”. It is not true, but the story already has legs.

I think consolidating some rural precincts makes sense. Asking a person who already drives 2 miles to drive 4 is not that onerous, and certainly not worth $50,000. What are your thoughts?




*DID YOU KNOW? In April 2011, 25 active duty military personnel committed suicide, almost half the number (51) killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. (Source: Time.)



Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-
www.johnson-county.com.

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or rodsullivan@mchsi.com. I look forward to serving you!

---Rod

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Rod.

I'm a rural resident of Sharon Township. We received the survey and replied that in essence, changing precincts will not affect our voting behavior.

So many people like to complain that government continually wastes their taxpayer money. Yet when the time comes to create some common-sense efficiencies, they scream bloody murder.

Don't quit standing up for what's right on this one.

-- Steve Groenewold

June 25, 2011 at 1:24 PM  

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