Iowa City School District voters crushed the nay-sayers and shattered every turnout record in the books Tuesday as the $191 million bond issue passed with a solid 65-35% win.
The turnout really is the biggest story of the day. I have been expecting a record for months. In the early spring I put my best analysis to the test – because turnout projections are literally part of my job – and months ago I was projecting about 5500 early votes and 10,000 at the polls – my exact number was 15,653.
That scared me, because that meant we were expecting more than 1500 voters each in Coralville and North Liberty – because of combined school precincts, that’s bigger than presidential crowds.
(Tangent: While I didn’t like the bill combining city and school elections effective in 2019, I will not miss explaining to voters that school precincts are different – which I spent most of the day doing.)
I had also expected huge lines in the February 2003 school bond, my benchmark for this election, and the election I considered the “real” record.Technically we were higher in December 1992, but as I explained in the prior post that was kind of a fluke because of a failed satellite voting experiment.
Our early vote numbers were even higher in 2003 than this year. But instead that turned out to be our first ever election with more early voters than election day voters.
My early vote projections were dead on; we counted 5,396 votes. So as I waited for the first turnout update at 9 AM, that was my question: Is it the scenario I expected, with about a third of the vote cast early and 10,000 at the polls? Or will this be another 50% early vote election?
We soon learned that it was the first scenario, so I spend the day fretting about lines and supplies. Once you’re in the zone or Above The All Time Record, it gets very hard to predict by how much.
All the voters got taken care off and the final result exceeded my projection by a bit, with 11,324 at the polls and a grand total of 16,700. And we pushed 1975 voters through North Liberty, an all time school election record.
But Lemme had the highest percentage turnout, at 22.8%. And that was my POLITICAL worry of the day. Was the vote at Lemme the Save Hoover vote, looking to scuttle the whole plan? Or was it the City High vote. looking for the Hoover lot adjacent to the high school for expansion? It turned out to be the former, as Yes led 63-37 at Lemme, just a hair below the district total.
In fact, Yes was a very consistent winner across the district, topping 60% in every precinct except an overwhelming No vote in Hills. They’re always the weakest supporters of school money issues, and Hills was subjected to the They’re Gonna Close Your School scare tactics of the No campaign. They’re also, by far, the smallest school precinct.
My other, anecdotal worry was an unusually large number of voters asking where to vote in the Twain precinct. The southeast side has also leaned against school funding. It’s a polarized area, with a young minority community that’s less likely to vote next to a lot of older empty nesters who do vote. Not only did these voters not know they voted at Twain for school elections – they had no idea where the school was! The Twain precinct But even Twain, just barely, voted 60% Yes.
The Mercer precinct also voted 60% yes despite the heavy concentration of senior voters that make up part of the 20% anti-taxer Automatic No vote any money measure faces.
North Liberty, as mentioned, saw a spike, and I was convinced that the high North Liberty vote was Liberty Football Field vote. They voted 71% yes. But the highest Yes vote was in the Manville Heights precinct. Despite Team No pushing the They’re Gonna Close Lincoln scare tactic, the doctors and professors voted 73% Yes.
I can always tell what an election is REALLY about by voter comments: “Can I vote in the county attorneys election?” “I want to vote for supervisor, and how soon can I change my party back.” This election I heard “I want to vote on the bond” and “do I have to vote on everything?”
Over a quarter of voters, 28% skipped the two-year school board race, and the average voter cast just 2.2 of their three votes in the full term race. That’s people who voted for two, or one, or skipped it entirely.
But only 0.4% (74 out of 16,700) of voters skipped the bond. That’s a lower undervote than you see for president. That’s people who made mistakes marking their ballot.
The fiscal conservative 20% Automatic No faction loses none of their very little credibility; there are just X number of people who hate government and hate taxes, even in the People’s Republic. (A lot of my stress over the outcome came from waiting on voters who had just paid their property taxes, which come due at the end of this month.)
People campaigning for Yes votes on any bond just have to work around them, and have to know that they have to get their 60% from the remaining 80%.
Put another way, they need to get 3/4 of the persuadable voters, a very difficult near-consensus level that requires a a broad based coalition of the center, near left, and near right. Or as I say, you need everyone from John Balmer to John Deeth – and Yes had both of us.
But in addition to the Anti-Tax Automatic No vote, Johnson County has another faction, a faux “progressive” faction, that would rather destroy than build. A faction that asks the impossible and attacks workable plans because they aren’t perfect. A faction that consistently aims their bitter anger at the wrong targets, and that disguises personal vendettas with misleading and flat out wrong “facts.” A faction that has scuttled at least two good candidates over narrow issues. A faction that looks at a broad coalition of the sensible center and accuses labor and the pragmatic progressives of being sell-outs to Big Business.
This No To Everything Left faction, and the Save Hoover faction int allied with, goes down as the election’s biggest loser. If the No campaign had simply shut up and let the considerable doubt simmer, or if they had let some of the more sensible anti-tax conservatives be their visible leaders, they might have gained the five points they needed.
But by letting their most disingenuous and abrasive people be their public faces – should I name the three names or do I even need to bother? – No’s campaign effort probably cost itself more votes than it gained. They were the loudest voices, but they’ve now been shown up as weak and non-influential. Those faces have now damaged their credibility for other causes and candidates they support.
Case in point: the board races.
Since Yes outnumbered No, and since people who don’t care about education policy beyond “don’t raise my taxes,” were more likely to skip the board races, the Yes candidates were the big winners.
I had projected J.P. Claussen in first place, which wasn’t hard. He was a Yes on the bond but he was seen as an acceptable enough school district administration critic that he was a third choice for a lot of No voters. Claussen was in first place everywhere except the anomalous Hills precinct where he was a close second.
The race for second was close, with Ruthina Malone just 268 votes ahead of Janet Godwin. Malone had some small advantages: a labor endorsement and support from a number of “vote for two” Yes voters who backed her and Claussen. Malone was second across most ofIowa City, while Godwin ran second in Coralville and North Liberty and on the west side.
Godwin in third ran FAR – 3300+ votes – ahead of fourth place finisher Laura Westemeyer, who was the only explicit Vote No and Fire Murley candidate. Westemeyer ‘s only bright spot was Hills, which she lives near. She won and Claussen was a close second; Hills had the highest under-vote share so it appears they voted for just two. But the district’s smallest precinct, with just 1% of the district wide vote, is a weak electoral base to say the least.
Westemeyer edged to 37% at the old City High precinct (now voting at Our Redeemer Church) where most of the Save Hoover vote lives, but she was under a third of the vote everywhere else.
I wish Karen Woltman had chosen a better race and better allies for her first electoral run. She tried to hedge on the bond but was clearly IDd as a No, and the yard signs seemed deliberately designed to resemble the SAVE HOOVER look. Woltman was last in every precinct, only inching above 30% in the Hoover area.
The two year race was the only close contest. Shawn Eyestone, who had switched over from the full term race, rode a lead in Coralville and his own North Liberty to a close win over Charlie Eastham. Both Eastham and Claussen had lost earlier races.
Clear Creek Amana also passed a bond, with much less controversy and a near record 71.1% yes; the February 2003 Iowa City bond was just a tenth of a point more popular.