NORTH LIBERTY– North Liberty voters may be relieved to learn there will be less standing in line in upcoming elections.
Last Tuesday, July 26, the North Liberty City Council voted 4-1 to accept a proposed map that increases North Liberty’s voting precincts from two to six.
Adding precincts was a mandate, based on population figures returned in the 2010 Census. North Liberty’s population increased to 13,374, and state law requires voting precincts to contain no more than 3,500 people each.
Though North Liberty could satisfy the requirement by dividing into just four precincts, city officials felt that plan left no room for additional population growth.
“If you get them too large, people are waiting too long in lines to vote,” said council member Coleen Chipman. “That’s why I think it’s better to keep them [the number of people voting per precinct] as low as we can, anticipating future growth.”
Council member Brian Wayson agreed.
“Six [precincts] would give us 2,300 people per precinct, and that should last us a little bit,” he said. “Six gives you some room to grow.”
Once approved, the six new precincts will take effect beginning January 15, 2012.
Perhaps the addition of four additional voting precincts will encourage people to come to the polls; just 2,824 of North Liberty’s 8,240 registered voters showed up at the polls in the 2010 general election. In the last city election, though there were four city council candidates vying for two open seats, only 515 voters– total– ventured out in November 2009.
Despite the relatively low turnout, North Liberty has been one of the most expensive polling areas, in terms of costs to the county. The current two precincts have been so large, they required a higher number of poll workers to staff and more equipment to operate.
“Our two precincts now are the two largest in the state of Iowa,” said Assistant City Administrator Tracey Mulcahey. “The auditor would like us not to get to that point again before the 2020 Census.”
In the 2008 presidential election, North Liberty’s NL01 precinct cost the county a total of $5,303 to operate, the highest of the 65 precincts throughout Johnson County. However, on a per-voter basis, North Liberty’s numbers look more economical. Precinct NL01 was ranked just 10th in the county, at $2.90 per voter, and NL02 was only the fifth costliest per-voter precinct, at $2.66 per voter in that same election. Rural precincts are more costly to operate on a per-voter basis; all polling sites require at least three poll workers, and when voter turnout is low, the ratio of voter to poll workers increases the cost per individual. For example, Lincoln Township cost the county $12.68 per voter in the 2008 presidential election, the highest in Johnson County.
Mulcahey said the County Auditor’s office also suggested North Liberty consider adding voting centers to facilitate additional convenience in voting. Any North Liberty voter can cast his or her ballot at a voting center, regardless of place of residence. If the city acquires six precincts, it could add up to four voting centers at no significant additional cost to the city, Mulcahey said. Having six precincts will cost the city about $5,600 per election– depending on whether the city adopts voting centers– about $1,300 more per election than the city’s current costs with two precincts.
The discussion about new precincts should not be confused with the upcoming ballot measure for a new form of council representation, however. A petition calling for a ward system of council representation will appear on the November 8, 2011, ballot. If passed by a majority of voters, North Liberty would be divided into five equal population wards, with one council member elected from each. Passing that measure would supersede the new precinct map, and different precincts would be drawn according to prescribed state requirements.
Council member Terry Donahue voted against the map, concerned that approving six precincts now would confuse voters in the November election when they vote on the five-ward system.
Mulcahey attempted to distinguish between the two issues.
“Reprecincting is really just dividing up the voters in a community so they have ease of voting,” Mulcahey said. “It really has nothing to do with representation at the table; rather, it’s, ‘which polling place do I go to when it’s time to vote?’”
The ordinance to adopt the new precinct map must pass two more council readings. If it does, the map will be sent to the Johnson County Auditor for approval, and must be sent to the Secretary of State’s office by Sept. 1.