Local elections in Story County have a very low voter-participation rate, lacking both student and adult voter turnout, according to the city of Ames.
Ames residents will cast their ballots for city office and school board candidates Tuesday.
The August election for the State Representative for District 6 had a voter participation rate of 5.29 percent, according to the city of Ames.
The reasoning behind low local election turnout rates is most likely related to students, said Mack Shelley, chair of the political science department at Iowa State. Shelly said the relevance of the election may seem to be less important, particularly to students.
“It’s easier to get students interested in and excited about something like a presidential race," Shelley said. "If you think about it, the things that a mayor or city council could do either to benefit or hurt the students is more direct and a lot stronger than [what] the president of the United States might do.”
Voter participation at the national level is higher than at the local level, but is often only focused on the presidential position.
“It’s unusual in the U.S., even in presidential election years, to get a turnout rate of 60 percent,” Shelley said. “60 percent turnout voting for president doesn’t guarantee that all those people vote for all the other things that are on that ballot. Some people just vote for one or a few offices and skip the rest.”
One reason people choose to not vote in a local election could be the perception that one’s vote does not count. Shelley said the drive behind certain people turning out to vote in this type of election is salience.
“When the election is seen as having higher salience, it means you feel like more is at stake and your future might be better or worse if anyone gets elected," Shelley said.
Voter apathy among students and adults during local elections can lead to lower voter turnout, said Zack Bonner, political science lecturer at Iowa State.
Voter apathy is when individuals do not vote based on lack of interest or enthusiasm. They may not vote because of a belief that their vote doesn't matter, or they may not be concerned about the result.
“There’s a cost-benefit analysis [...] and a lot of times, they just don’t feel as connected to the community." Bonner said. "It’s more of, ‘I’m going to be here for three, four, five years and then I’m gone, so why do I need to worry about local zoning ordinances or property taxes?’”
Campaigning is one way candidates can reach out to the community and interact with constituents.
Small, local campaigning is much less popular than a national-level campaign. Shelley said part of the challenge is on how prominent the position is. He said for positions such as mayor or a city council representative, there is likely a formal organization.
“Someone is in charge of raising money to help fund the campaign, and somebody is in charge of getting out information for you as a candidate," Shelley said. "Somebody else is going to be in charge of getting people to go door-to-door, and even in an age of social media, that’s still impactful.”
Local positions and campaigns are also at a financial disadvantage compared to those at the national level.
“[Campaigns] costs money, “ Shelley said. “You have to spend money on this kind of staff support in order to raise more money to make sure you get your story out.”
Bonner and Shelley said they believed in the importance of voting in local elections.
“If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” Shelley said. “Participating in these elections is really essential as a way to try to have some control and some direction to the people that do get elected. It’s a matter of self protection, if nothing else.”
Shelley also said that civic engagement and participation is important in a local area.
“If you don’t have people participating, you can run into a situation in which decisions get made by outside influences,” Shelley said. “It’s a combination of voting for who you want so you have some sense of control over what happens in and through government, and it’s [a] way of protective deciding.”
Bonner said voting should be important to students on campus, even if they are only in their local community for four or five years.
Another part of the low participation rate has to do with the lack of access to information for students about local elections and how they are run, Bonner said.
“It’s not always obvious where [students] can go to find out that information for who’s running and when these locations are, or where they would actually need to go [and] where their polling location is," Bonner said. "The fact that information isn’t very readily accessible for them [is] a barrier to entry as well.”
If an individual does not know if the are registered, the Secretary of State of Iowa website allows anyone to put in their name and zip code to find out if they are properly registered to vote.
Story County’s website has information on all 43 polling locations in the county and can also show you the registration requirements for voters, Bonner said.
On Tuesday, Ames residents can cast their votes for city office and school board candidates in three different offices: City Council, school board and hospital trustees.
The at-large, Ward 2 representative and Ward 4 representative are up for election for the Ames City Council. Incumbent Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen is running uncontested for the at-large position, and incumbent Timothy Gartin is running uncontested for Ward 2 representative.
Ward 4 is a race between Iowa State student Rachel Junck, 2017 Iowa State graduate Joe Van Erdewyk and incumbent Chris Nelson. Voters may vote for no more than one candidate, and only one candidate will get elected.
Several Mary Greeley Medical Center trustees are also running for reelection. Incumbents Sarah Buck, Kenneth McCuskey and Brad Heemstra are all up for reelection and are uncontested. Of the three candidates running, three will be elected to the positions.
Additionally, four at-large Ames school board directors are going to be elected. Seven candidates are running, with two being incumbents.
Board president Alisa Frandsen and vice president Allen Bierbaum are running for reelection, and Sabrina Shields-Cook, Michelle Lenkaitis, Amy Edwards, Alexei Yakobson and Awein Majak are running for election.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Detailed polling location information is available online at www.storycountyiowa.gov. Each voter registration card contains a precinct number that can be found in parentheses next to the correct location.