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|10/5/2013 ||Email this article Print this article |
Absentee ballot proposal would affect Andover, Welton, Toronto for city elections
|Hootman a candidate for Welton council|
| Casey Hootman is running for an at-large seat on the Welton City Council in the Nov. 5 city elections, joining three other candidates running for three open positions. |
In a press release Oct. 2, the Clinton County auditor's office said Hootman's name inadvertently was left off the candidate list originally provided to media outlets in late September.
Other candidates for the city council are incumbents Billy Koranda and Tamie Simmons and newcomer Cindy Jacobsen. Glen Boswell is the sole candidate for mayor.
Hootman tied Janet Huffman in a 2007 contest for mayor of Welton and lost by nine votes in a three-way mayoral race against Huffman and Jon Marlowe in
A proposal to allow municipalities with populations under 200 to hold city elections solely by absentee ballot would have a minimal impact in Clinton County, but county commissioner of elections Eric Van Lancker says he would support the measure as a way potentially to reduce election costs.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz recently proposed legislation that would allow towns with 200 or fewer residents to conduct municipal elections by absentee ballot alone.
Under the proposal, small towns would have the option of adopting the change but would not be required to do so. In cities that do, voters still could cast ballots in person on Election Day at the county auditor's office.
It appears three municipalities in Clinton County would be affected by the change: Andover, which has a population of 103 based on the 2010 census; Welton, which has a population of 165; and Toronto, which has a population of 124.*
Van Lancker said Schultz' proposal makes sense, especially in counties like Dubuque that have a large number of cities under the population threshold, but he was surprised the idea came from the secretary of state's office.
"It always was my impression he wasn't interested in this for a while because he does not support vote by mail and believes this could open the door to vote by mail," Van Lancker said.
That aside, "It does make sense, I believe, to have this as an option. Depending on the situation, it could be beneficial to the municipality as well as the county commissioner of elections," he said.
Doing away with municipal polling locations could save the cities and the county money and would eliminate the challenge of finding precinct election officials to work the polls.
"Admittedly, it is difficult to find precinct election officials to work in Andover or in Toronto, the lower population cities that have elections," Van Lancker said.
State law already allows election commissioners to establish reduced polling hours at their discretion, and small towns in Clinton County typically keep polls open 12-8 p.m. on Election Day rather than the lengthier 7 a.m. -8 p.m. schedule.
Although the decision ultimately is in the hands of the election commissioner, Van Lancker said he typically follows the schedule requested by municipalities when they complete their election planning worksheet.
Van Lancker said there have been instances in small towns where all the voting is done by 5 p.m., but the law requires the polls to remain an additional three hours.
Those situations illustrate the reasoning behind the idea, Van Lancker said, though he would oppose any effort to reduce polling hours in cities beyond the 12-8 p.m. timeframe.
This is not the first time the idea of eliminating polling locations in the smallest cities has been raised. Similar legislation in 2011 passed the Iowa House but stalled in the Senate, and Van Lancker says the state auditor's association has kicked around the proposal in the past.
Van Lancker hasn't discussed the idea with residents in the communities that would be affected but said he would ask for their input if the proposal moves forwards.
"Going to the polls is an event for a lot of people, but it is an event that is costing more and more," he said.
While the auditor's office absorbs some personnel and material costs from administering city elections, cities reimburse the county for the majority of the expenses.
The county billed Andover $771.46 for the 2011 city election, $590 of which was for precinct election officials.
Toronto was billed $1,789.95 in 2011, $760 of which was for precinct election officials.
Welton paid $1,700.93 for the 2011 election, but a breakdown of the cost was not available.
There were 59 registered voters in Andover, and 21 voters cast ballots in 2011, for a cost of $36.74 per vote.
The cost comes to $85.24 per vote in Toronto, where 21 of the city's 81 registered voters turned out, and $39.56 in Welton, where 43 of 123 registered voters participated.
No Andover residents voted by absentee ballot in 2011, and two absentee ballots were cast each in Welton and Toronto.
The 2011 city elections cost the three cities under 200 population a total $4,262.34 in administration costs.
According to Van Lancker, it costs his office approximately $3.62 to send and receive an absentee ballot, which would mean a cost of $952.06 if ballots were processed for all registered voters in Andover, Welton and Toronto.
"The cities pay for a majority of the election, so they have budgetary reasons why the proposal might be better for them," Van Lancker said.
"Even without the precinct election officials, it's still a numbers game," he said, noting it would increase either the number of workers or the hours worked by the absentee board that counts absentee ballots.
Van Lancker said he has taken other cost-cutting measures since he was first elected in 2008, including combining several rural polling locations, reducing the number of ballots ordered based on voter turnout and a recent move to combine polling locations in DeWitt, Clinton and Camanche.
*As of press time, the website for the United States Census Bureau was shut down "due to the lapse in government funding," and direct access to census data was not available. Population data used is based on census bureau information included in Wikipedia entries on the respective cities.