Many student voters stuck to 21-only

BY SAM LANE | NOVEMBER 11, 2010 7:20 AM

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Statistics from the Johnson County Auditor's Office may reveal what some had suspected going into the election: many UI students would vote on the 21-ordinance and not some other items on the ballot.

For example, nearly 100 percent voters who cast their ballots at the University of Iowa Main Library — one of the heaviest precincts for students — voted on the 21-ordinance in last week's election.

But roughly 30 percent of those residents didn't vote for governor, while nearly 60 percent didn't vote on whether to retain Iowa's judges on the ballot.

As at the Main Library, an average of nearly 99 percent of people voted on the 21-ordinance in student-heavy precincts, which also include Quadrangle, Johnson County Courthouse, Iowa City Recreation Center, and the Johnson County Senior Center.

Overall, 6.5 percent of Iowa City voters didn't vote for governor, and 2.8 percent didn't vote for the ordinance.

Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett said Iowa law doesn't require voters to complete their ballots.

"It's basically a free choice to any voter," he said.

Slockett said he votes on every single office but said he knows "down-ballot" issues often get less attention.

In 2006, more than 99 percent of Johnson County voters voted for governor, while only 54 percent voted for the district-court retention, a back-of-the-ballot issue.

"I think the right to vote is a precious right," Slockett said. "I wish all voters would study the issues, the candidates, and vote on every target available to them."

However this year, two of the most controversial items — the ordinance and Supreme Court judge retention — were on the back of the ballot.

Iowa City blogger John Deeth recently created a post about the "under-vote," or the items for which voters did not vote.

"It was a very frequent concern during the voting period. People were asking, 'What are they voting for?' " Deeth said. "Was it everything or just the bars?"

The biggest conclusion he's drawn from the election, he said, is the city is now completely "polarized."

"I don't know what City Council can do to make students feel welcome," Deeth said. "Frankly, it was a slap in the face."

Deeth, who voted to repeal the 21-ordinance, said the system of representation is "indefensible" because there is no voting student representative on the City Council.

As for students, some said voter response was simply indicative of their interests.

"People only cared about 21," said UI sophomore Connor Bean, who voted to return the bars to 19. "They either filled in [the rest of the ballot] randomly or voted all Democrat or all Republican just to get to the 21-ordinance."

Bean also voted a straight ticket for elected offices.

And the outcome wasn't surprising, said UI political-science Associate Professor Cary Covington.

"It just tells you people are voting in elections they care about," he said. "That's their business. That's all it means."

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