My Vote is Bigger Than Your Vote

Ballot boxWhat if you held an election and nobody showed up? Well, yesterday my vote counted more than it usually does. You see, there happened to be an election, and I was one of just 5,077 Des Moines Independent School District voters who voted on a property tax ballot question. This small group of voters decided whether to continue collecting a $.63 per $1000 property tax for school facilities improvement.

Let's say the average house in the Des Moines Independent Community School District is assessed at $100,000. I just spent $63 of your money! That's a fabulous dinner for two at Cafe di Scala, two oil changes, or 60 cups of coffee at Mars Cafe (with Foursquare check-in). Dear people who didn't show up to cast your vote: Thanks for letting me decide!

In all fairness, I can't place the blame solely on the voter. Publicity for this election was woefully, well, nonexistent. I must acknowledge my friend Kelli Griffis, who sent out a Twitter message alerting us that the election was underway. Had I not received that notification, I too would have missed my chance to cast a ballot.

Here was the question put before us:

Shall the Board of Directors of the Des Moines Independent Community
School District, in the Counties of Polk and Warren, State of Iowa, for the
purpose of repairing, remodeling, reconstructing, improving, or expanding
the schoolhouses or buildings and additions to existing schoolhouses;
expenditures for energy conservation; purchasing and improving grounds;
rental of facilities under Chapter 28E; purchasing buildings; procuring or
acquisition of libraries; or purchasing equipment authorized by law, be
authorized to continue, for a period of ten (10) years, to levy annually, as
determined by the Board, a voter-approved physical plant and equipment
property tax not to exceed Sixty-Three Cents (.63) per One Thousand Dollars
($1,000) of the assessed valuation of the taxable property within the School
District, commencing with the levy for collection in the fiscal year ending
June 30, 2012?

What the heck does all that mean? Well, it basically asks whether we should continue the way things are for the next 10 years, or get rid of the $.63 per $1000 property tax that is paying for school infrastructure improvements.

Whatever the question, turnout was embarrassingly low.

How might turnout be improved?

  1. Social Media - The Polk County Auditor should have a Twitter account for updates. I would appreciate them capturing email addresses for critical announcements as well. Both of these could serve double duty for communicating with residents during disasters. Polk County Health Department has a Twitter account that I have found very useful (@polkcohealth).
  2. Traditional Media - Whenever a decision meets the threshold for a public vote, it becomes important enough for the media to cover... it's their money, too! I didn't see any media coverage of the election (except, perhaps for some post election returns).
  3. Better Ballots - The graphic design of our ballots and the wording are both horrific! Not only are they visually confusing, but the text is difficult to decipher. I'm sure that any of our local creative talent could design a better ballot...
  4. Election Days - Holding an entire election in order to decide this particular question alone was costly and unnecessary. Election laws should be changed to encourage timing school board elections to align with other elections.

Here's hoping that more people care enough to vote in future elections.

If you didn't vote, why not? Feel free to respond in the comments.


I found out about the election the same way you did. I think a) They should publicize it as widely as possible through social media and traditional media. Even after I knew about the election I had trouble finding out information on the Des Moines Register's website and others.
b) They should have as few elections as possible to ensure majority participation.

gatsby | Sep 21st, 2010 at 10:21 am

Jamie Fitzgerald, Polk County Auditor, responded to me privately about this post and said that they had considered creating a Twitter account, but determined that it would be used only sporadically...

I responded with some suggestions for keeping it fresh:

  • Election lead-up (starting a month or so before each election) "Save the date!" "How to find you polling place," "Items on the ballot," "Need a ride?"
  • General election trivia "Did you know..." "In the last election..." "President Taft was elected in..." "There have been ___ governors of Iowa."
  • How to run for office "Signatures must be turned in by ___," "County Supervisor filing deadline in x days!"
  • Election day coverage "Vote Today!" "Polls open in 12 hours," "As of noon, we've had record turnout." "With 72% of the precincts reporting..." "We want to hear your experiences - use hashtag #PolkCountyElection2010 to report." "Polls are open! Anyone seeing long lines yet?"
  • Board of Supervisors meeting announcements and minutes "October 12 meeting minutes are up on the Auditor's website," "Polk County Supervisors meet tonight. On the agenda is..."
  • General information "Poll workers needed. Apply at..." "We're fixing a water leak in the women's bathroom," "Beautiful day out today - the kind of day it's great to be an Auditor!"

He said that he may take it back to conversation and reconsider. If others let him know they would follow, it might be convincing.

DMPerspective | Sep 21st, 2010 at 10:27 am

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