For election workers and voters alike, the names on the ballots weren’t the only thing different about Tuesday’s election.
This contest marked the first time that school board and city races were combined on the same ballot. Meanwhile, it marked the first general election in which voters were required to present government-issued identification in order to cast ballots.
Local officials said the pair of changes produced mixed results.
Dubuque County Deputy Commissioner of Elections Jenny Hillary believes combining school and city elections created some efficiencies in tasks like testing machines, ordering ballots and training poll workers.
“Instead of doing all those things twice, you are just doing it once,” she said.
In terms of voter turnout, the change had mixed results.
In the City of Dubuque, 14% of registered voters cast a ballot in this year’s election. That is down from 18.2% in the previous election, held in 2017.
Turnout in school board elections, however, saw a bump.
The Dubuque Community School District had a voter turnout of 8.5% in 2019, up from 7.7% two years ago. Western Dubuque Community School District contests saw a turnout of 12.6% in 2019, a substantial spike from the 4.5% turnout in the previous election.
Dubuque County Auditor Denise Dolan does not believe the combined ballots were the lone factor in the rise or fall of these turnout figures.
“It is much more driven by what issues a city (or school board) is having,” she said. “It is about what races are on the ballot, who is running for those seats and how much they get people out to support them.”
Clayton County Auditor Jennifer Garms also reported mixed turnout results.
She said voter turnout throughout Clayton Country was 18% in Tuesday’s election. The previous city election had a 25% turnout, while the past school board election yielded just a 7% turnout.
“I do think that (having the elections at the same time) helped the school board turnout,” Garms said. “With the combined elections, it is easier for the public to know when they are going to vote. Some people forget those school elections when they are in September.”
Attempts to reach Delaware County Auditor Carla Becker and Jackson County Auditor Alisa Smith to provide comment for this story were unsuccessful.
County officials are still gauging whether the new format for elections will lead to any decrease in costs.
Garms noted that merging the elections forced the county to open polls at 7 a.m., about five hours earlier than they would have in previous school board and city elections. As a result, they had to pay more for poll workers.
Dolan anticipates decreased costs in some areas, but an uptick in others.
“In the overall scheme of things, at the administrative level of the county, I think we will see a decrease,” she said. “But in some areas, particularly in small cities, they will see higher costs than they have in past elections.”
Voters also were required to present identification prior to casting a ballot on Tuesday.
Garms said implementation of the new requirement was “relatively smooth” throughout Clayton County.
In the previous election, officials asked voters to present identification, even though it was not yet a requirement.
“I think that soft rollout really helped prepare people,” said Garms.
She said some residents forgot their IDs and needed to retrieve them before returning to their polling places. However, no voters were forced to cast provisional ballots due to a lack of identification.
In Dubuque County, Dolan also reported an effective transition to the new requirements.
“I didn’t hear of any major problems,” she said. “There was not a lot of feedback from election officials about it.”