Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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October 13, 2016

Sullivan’s Salvos     10/18/16

In this edition:

*RIP David Wright
*Des Moines Register Poll
*Photographing a Ballot
*Intergovernmental Relations
*Did You Know?

*RIP David Wright
         The owner of Crown Electric, David was a salt-of-the-Earth guy with a great wry sense of humor. He served on a few Boards and Commissions for Johnson County over the years, and his service was always exemplary. RIP.

*Des Moines Register Poll
         I like the Des Moines Register; I really do. I think it is impressive that it has fought its’ Gannett owners as long and hard as it has. But there is one thing I DETEST about the Des Moines Register, and that is the Register Poll.

         I get it – the poll sells papers. It also poisons democracy. We need coverage of issues, not coverage of horse races. I am convinced that these polls reduce voter turnout. Worse, they take the focus off important topics.

         The Register should be about informing the citizenry, not about profits. But because it IS about profits, we get polls instead of news. And the polls are timed perfectly to inflict the most possible damage on the democratic process.

         Odds are quite good the last Register poll will be a bust because of the timing. Good. I hope that happens several times in a row, so these polls go away and we can actually discuss issues.

*Photographing a Ballot
         There have been a few recent court cases regarding the photographing of voted ballots. I have already seen a few photos of voted ballots show up in my own Facebook feed. While this may seem innocent, I happen to believe the photographing of voted ballots could fundamentally undermine our democracy.

Snopes ran the following: “The answers to questions about whether it is illegal to photograph a ballot and post the results on the Internet, and what the penalties are for doing so, are "It depends." Regulations regarding voting procedure in the U.S. are set at a state level (or lower), so laws in this area vary quite a bit from place to place. In most states, however, it is the case that voters who upload photographs of their ballots to the Internet could indeed be risking criminal penalties.”

"It's a very unusual case," says Jeffrey Hermes, the deputy director of the Media Law Resource Center in New York. "Usually banning political speech would be a violation of the First Amendment. But with photography at polling places, there's an intersection of two fundamental aspects of democracy: freedom of speech and the integrity of the voting process."

“Hermes breaks it down this way: Suppose you were a nefarious character who wanted to skew the voting process in some way. You could buy votes, but you'd want proof that people actually voted like you told them to. You could mislead people who don't understand the voting process or don't speak English well. You could intimidate other voters into voting like you do.”

“In these cases, photos from inside the voting booth would really help you, the nefarious character, perpetrate election fraud. And so, many states have just banned those photos categorically. In this narrow circumstance, they've indicated, there's something more essential to democracy than free speech.”

         This is not hyperbole. I can think of hundreds of scenarios where people could be coerced into showing someone else their voted ballot. Abusers could force victims of domestic violence to prove how they voted. Employers could force employees to vote a certain way or lose a job. Parents could force young adult children to vote a certain way or be forced out of college or out of the house. Churches, unions, and other membership organizations could begin to require proof of a vote as a condition for membership. Buying votes would become rampant. Who would pay the most for your vote? It is now for sale!

         Sure, we could create a law that says it is illegal to coerce a person in these ways. Heck, my bet is such a law probably already exists. But good luck enforcing it! Those with power will always find new ways to coerce those without. It is simpler to just make it illegal.

         I fully understand that this conflicts with a person’s First Amendment Rights. So I do not come to this conclusion lightly. I feel it is critical that we maintain the integrity of our democracy, and keep voted ballots private!

*Intergovernmental Relations
         Over the past 15 or so years, there have been some high-profile spats between North Liberty, Coralville, Iowa City, Johnson County, and the ICCSD. I think there are a few easy explanations for this:

1.   We have experienced a great deal of growth; growth brings many challenges.
2.   The State and Federal governments have reduced the income coming into local governments, meaning it is more likely we will argue over what little is available.
3.   It is human nature to worry about oneself (and one’s own interests) first.
4.   Elected officials oftentimes have egos that get in the way.
5.   One or two rogue comments by one or two elected officials can be magnified far out of proportion.
6.   There is no codified mechanism for communication between the groups.
7.   Media coverage of these governmental entities is dwindling.

So it is not hard to see why local governments had some spats. The good news? In my opinion, the relationships between local governments are the best they have been in that 15-year period.

It is a bit ironic, as people who opposed the election of the “Core Four” in 2014 claimed intergovernmental relations would suffer as a result. In fact, the exact opposite has been true.

What has changed? I would have to say that meetings have made the difference. Individual meetings between councilors and board members, joint meetings between two entities, and joint meetings between all entities. When people sit down and talk, they can find common ground.

I remember requesting a joint meeting between the City of Iowa City and Johnson County way back in 2007. Johnson County made the same request, a couple times per year, for seven years. We finally held that meeting in 2014. The delay did not serve our constituents well. Thankfully, those days are in the rearview mirror.

We also have to acknowledge the leaders who have made this happen. Amy Nielsen, John Lundell, Jim Throgmorton, and Chris Lynch deserve credit for creating a culture where governmental entities talk to each other. It sounds easy, but it took work by these folks to get to where we are.

Relationships between these elected bodies are pretty good right now, knock on wood. That does not mean there won’t be areas of disagreement; we will always have areas of disagreement. But I feel good about where we are, and good about where we are headed.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Most local governments in Johnson County participate in a quarterly “Joint Entities” meeting.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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