Supervisor Brian Morgan’s comment that he was “shocked” by the number of ballots needed for last week’s elections could have described us when we heard just how many ballots were needed, too.
Merging municipal and school board elections probably helped raise the number of votes cast, especially in regard to school board races. Those have been notoriously low-turnout elections historically, though they still cost quite a bit, and efforts to boost attention for those races was probably overdue.
But the number of ballot combinations needed for the dual votes was surprising. Almost four dozen different ballots were needed for Wapello County, greatly complicating things. The fact the election night count went as smoothly as it did is a credit to the county auditor’s office.
It’s also a real credit to the people who spent the day manning the polling locations. It’s not a job that appeals to a lot of people. Handling the polling places is guaranteed to be a long day, especially for precincts that don’t see many voters. You’re almost assured of dealing with at least a few grumpy people who come to the wrong precinct or run into a snag with their registration. In the rare cases there’s an error on a ballot, it’s not your fault but you will definitely hear about it.
For voters, elections are generally a straightforward process. That’s a good thing. Problems at the polls give rise to conspiracy theories and frustrations that can undermine trust in the process.
But it also means there is an inevitable sense that the process can be taken for granted. That’s human nature, not a criticism. Most people simply don’t put much thought into how complex systems work if they aren’t directly involved in them.
Iowa can justifiably be proud of the elections it runs. There have been few significant problems over the years, and certainly none on the scale of incidents in some other states. The people who run the elections work hard to ensure that the words “Iowa” and “hanging chad” stay as far apart as possible.
As with most things, the combined elections will probably get easier for all involved once there are a few votes to learn from. There are almost always things that can be learned, details that can be tweaked to make things smoother.
But the fact that a vote with this many ballots didn’t result in chaos speaks well of the preparations and effort put in by scores of people behind the scenes. It was a good start for a new approach, and one that should see real benefits in the long term.