Voter statistics show lower turnout for city elections


Turnout at voting locations on campus was low- polling officials at the Union Drive Community Center location counted 22 voters as of 5 at night.

Despite the elected city officials having a direct impact on issues such as housing and city referendums often being included on the ballots, local elections traditionally see far fewer voters than presidential or gubernatorial elections.

The most recent city election was no exception.

As a county, 17.59 percent of registered voters participated in their city elections, many of which were holding mayoral elections, according to records from the Story County Auditor’s Office.

The 2016 presidential election saw participation from 73.8 percent of registered voters. The 2014 gubernatorial election saw 51 percent. The city elections’ overall percentages haven’t reached 20 percent since 2003.

On average, gubernatorial elections have twice the turnout that city elections do and presidential elections have three times the turnout.

John Haila is Ames’ mayor-elect after earning 58.41 percent of over 8,000 votes cast during the Nov. 7 election.

“I think that everyone who was running this year was trying to help make that point is that local elected officials, local offices will probably have the most direct effect on a person’s life,” Haila said.

This year, the overall voter turnout percentage in Story County increased by 4 percent to reach 17.5 percent, the highest it has been since 2003.

Haila said he spent time during the campaigning season encouraging people to go out and vote. At meet and greets, Haila would tell people that the last four elections have seen between 4,200 and 4,700 voters which he described as low turnout.

“Would it be nice to have even more people, sure, but that’s something that we really worked hard to get people to go out and vote,” Haila said.

Lucy Martin, the auditor for Story County, has served as the auditor of Story County since 2011.

Most of what Martin does is behind the scenes work with elections. Martin’s responsibilities include maintaining financial records, preparing and certifying tax levies, acting as commissioner of elections, keeping real estate transfer records and serving as the acting clerk to the board of supervisors.

“The election turnout was a little bit higher this year. As for past elections it’s the voter’s job to go out and vote. The state of Iowa does a good job of getting all the information people need to vote,” Martin said.

Over the past 10 local elections, the voter participation has varied from 10.4 percent to 21 percent.

“If there were years with higher than normal votes then there’s a good chance there was a [referendum] on the ballot and that’s what drew the bigger turnout,” Martin said. “If there is something going on with the schools and the school districts then that will also be another factor that draws people in to vote.”

In 2001, the voter participation jumped almost 10 percent. Martin said there is no known explanation for the high turnout for the high participation in 2001, but the 2003 county participation of 21.3 percent was attributed to a larger number of people running office.

There was a four-way for a court seat and a six-way race for the council at-large. Since there were more people campaigning for votes, more people in the county voted.

Haila said students who likely register in Ames during the presidential elections may lead to lower percentages when they don’t participate in local elections. Haila, an Iowa State graduate, said while he would like to see more student participation, he understands considering he and his wife did not participate in local elections when they were undergrads.

There is no current data to show the amount of students who vote.

Polling officials who worked polls where many Iowa State students would vote — the Fire Service Training Bureau, Ames Middle School, Collegiate United Methodist Church, Buchanan Hall, Maple Hall, Union Drive Community Center and the Collegiate Presbyterian Church — were asked about the amount of students who voted with about two hours before polls closed.

Buchanan reported the highest estimated student participation with 62 participants. The Collegiate Presbyterian Church reported about 20 undergraduates that voted.

Haila hopes to improve student involvement over his term as mayor.

“I want to get students more actively engaged in the community because I believe that students bring a tremendous strength, vitality, insights, that will benefit the Ames community and I believe that if we know one another, we’ll understand one another,” Haila said. “And I’m not saying that, ‘Oh it’s just terrible.’ I just think there’s room for improvement.”