KNOXVILLE — Legislation was passed by the Iowa House of Representatives last month aiming to combine school and city elections on the same date.
Currently, regular elections for Iowa’s public schools are held on the second Tuesday in September. This is separate from normal Election Day for federal, state and city elections, which occur on the second Tuesday in November of their respective years.
Lawmakers pushing for the change say combing the elections on the same day will open school district elections to a larger turnout.
In theory that scenario is possible. Statewide in the last four elections, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, turnout averaged 6.5 percent. In the same time frame, turnout for city elections was 21.3 percent.
Marion County sees close to the same trends for their local school districts and townships.
In 2015, the last time school and city elections were held, Knoxville had a turnout of 5.2 percent in their school election. Meanwhile, the city elections saw 17.9 percent of voters come to the polls.
Democrats have opposed the bill on the house floor, saying the change would cause confusion on Election Day.
“This will be chaos,” Rep. Mary Masher, D-Johnson, said on the floor during debate last month. “But we created chaos with the voter ID bill, so I guess this isn’t any different. It seems to me that when you have two different groups of voters that are voting in different elections that we should respect that. The people who vote in school board don’t necessarily vote in city council, and vice versa.
The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimates roughly 400 hours of work, costing roughly $50,000, would be necessary to combine the elections. The work would involve the Secretary of State’s office determining how to combine school and city boundaries that are currently incompatible.
The specific impact will vary from city to city across the state, based on how many changes would need to be made to boundary lines.
Costs will change, as well. The Legislative Services Agency says how much will depend on the specific area. Generally, they predict that cities may see some cost savings due to no longer bearing the entire cost burden. Schools, on the other hand, could see their costs increase due to paying into larger elections.
The Knoxville School District paid $1,948.41 to run their 2015 election, while the city of Knoxville’s cost was $5,154.22 for the same year.
Pella was the biggest payer overall, with the city on the hook for a $7,071.64 bill in 2015 and the school district paying $3,161.75.
The Senate’s state government committee voted 13-0 to recommend passage of the bill as it was passed in the House.
The Iowa State Education Association, Iowa Association of School Boards and Rural School Advocates of Iowa are among the education lobby that have registered against the bill. The Iowa State Association of Counties are the only lobbyists currently registered in support. Several others, such as the Iowa League of Cities and the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees are listed as undecided.
The bill has not yet been debated on the Senate floor. It’s unclear just when that debate could occur. If passed and signed by the Governor, the change would be slated to take effect for the 2019 elections.