The first ever combined election of city council and school board seats Nov. 5 was not a problem at all for the Page County Auditor’s office.
“We had a busier day and everything went well,” said Auditor Melissa Wellhausen, whose office oversees elections.
Two years ago, state legislature agreed to have city and school on the same ballot starting this year. Historically, school board elections were held in September and city council was on the regular, November election day.
Legislators were motivated to improve voter turnout, which Wellhausen said happened in Page County. According to her count, 25 percent of the registered voters showed up. That means 2,555 of 10,160 registered voters went to the polls.
She was pleased with the turnout, but knows it is difficult to put all the increase on one reason.
“Polling sites were open longer. That gave people more time to be able to vote,” she said.
Polls were open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., much longer than the previous, noon to 8 p.m.
Wellhausen said the extended voting time was a benefit to voters, she just didn’t want election judges at precincts setting idle.
But she knows what’s on the ballot also drives voter turnout. There were contested seats for Clarinda, Essex and Shenandoah school boards. Contested seats were also for Essex and Shenandoah city council. Plus, Shenandoah School District had a $14 million building improvement proposal.
“We had a few more items on the ballot and a large bond issue will bring people out,” she said.
Wellhausen has had the position since 2011 and it’s not the first time her office has handled busy ballots. In the June 2016 primary, there was competition for two Page County Board of Supervisors seats and sheriff, plus races for federal seats. That election had a voter turnout of 31 percent, or 3,244 of 10,274 at the polls.
In November 2015, Clarinda chose three among seven for city council seats. Entire voter turnout for the county was 15 percent, or 1,022 ballots cast.
Voters this year in each precinct had a choice of how they wanted to vote; either by the traditional paper ballot or on a touch-screen computer.
“It was used a lot,” Wellhausen said about the touch-screen voting. “During our training, we encouraged election officials at the precincts to tell the voters about the machine.”
According to election records, the Shenandoah Historical Society site led the way among all Page County sites with 225 voters using the screen. Clarinda’s Lied Library was a distant second with 139 voters; Essex, 120; Page County Courthouse, 107; Shenandoah Fire Department, 56.