Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Live-blogging the school board election results

Consider this your source for nerdy commentary on the school board election returns as they come in tonight. For precinct-by-precinct results, read the updates that appear below the tables. For information on the candidates, click here.

For the four-year term, the top four candidates will be elected. With 100% of the votes counted, the results are:

Candidate Votes Percentage*
√ Swesey 2976 66%
√ McGinness 2856 64%
√ Hoelscher 2305 51%
√ Fields 1910 43%
Hemingway 1821 41%
Porter 1589 35%
Alden 934 21%
Tate 572 13%

*The third column doesn’t add up to 100% because every voter can cast up to four votes.

For the two-year term:

Candidate Votes Percentage
√ Cook 3165 70%
VanDyke 850 19%

UPDATE 9/17: I just updated the chart with the figures that are now on the Auditor's website. I assume the changes reflect a few extra ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but arrived afterward. Hemingway ends up 89 votes behind Fields.

UPDATE WEDNESDAY P.M.: Hemingway is not ruling out a request for a recount.

UPDATE WEDNESDAY A.M.: Interesting piece from Sarah Swisher in today's Press-Citizen.

UPDATE 11:50: Time to sign off for the night. Congratulations to Marla Swesey, Jeff McGinness, Sally Hoelscher, Patti Fields, and Karla Cook. The good news is you’ve won the election; the bad news is you’ve won the election. Thank you, Julie VanDyke, Phil Hemingway, Bob Porter, Jim Tate, and Jeff Alden for running.

UPDATE 11:40: Just spent some time looking through past election returns to see how often incumbents have been defeated. Going back thirty-five years, I could detect only one: Dale Shultz in 2002. He won in 1999 with 42% of the vote, then lost in 2002 with 56% of the vote -- go figure.

UPDATE 10:15: Gazette coverage here.

UPDATE 10:08: Ninety-three write-in votes? Tell us more, Johnson County Auditor!

UPDATE 10:05: On average, people used only 3.3 of their four possible votes for the four-year seats. That's 2,930 votes that went uncast -- almost as much as the first-place finisher received! Also, 456 people -- more than ten percent of those voting -- chose not to cast a vote for the two-year seat.

UPDATE 9:45: Porter was endorsed by the teacher's union, the Federation of Labor, and the Press-Citizen. What went wrong?

UPDATE 9:30: Hemingway beat Fields by only 66 votes at City High, his home precinct. She beat him by 314 votes in North Liberty and Coralville. She got at least 34% everywhere except in Hills; his percentages were as low as 23%. Having some town-wide appeal makes a difference. Then there's the fact that, even though the election is "non-partisan," it was no secret that both Hemingway and Alden are registered Republicans. Johnson County is a hard place to be a registered Republican running for office. It was an obstacle for a lot of people I know. I wasn't against the idea of having a Republican on the board -- again, someone to break up the groupthink can be a good thing -- but I did wonder how much of the Republican party's attitude toward education he would bring along with him. (Alas, I can't say I'm all that much more impressed with the Democratic party's attitude.) He might have reassured me a bit if he had ever gotten around to answering my candidate questionnaire. On the other hand, maybe his answers would have lost any chance of getting my vote . . .

UPDATE 9:28: Press-Citizen coverage here.

UPDATE 9:25: Almost forgot to mention: Turnout was 5.95% -- not beating 2009 after all.

UPDATE 9:20: The Kirkwood bond issue passed overwhelmingly, with 85% of the votes 81% of the county-wide vote; in the ICCSD it was supported by 85% of those voting on it.

UPDATE 9:20 Only 86 votes separate Fields, who won, from Hemingway, who lost. That number seems big enough that it’s unlikely to change with a recount, but small enough to be awfully painful to Hemingway. You’ve got to feel for the guy.

UPDATE 9:15: It’s hard not to see this election as a victory of the Establishment over the Upstarts. VanDyke, Hemingway, and Porter were the candidates who seemed to stand more clearly for a different, more hands-on approach to running the district. I don’t know too many people who were crazy about the way the board operated over the past two years, but apparently not enough people could bring themselves to vote for candidates who seemed too anti-establishment. To me, it seems like people are using the same strategies for candidate selection that they’ve used in the past -- putting a lot of weight on experience and on moderation and on seeming reasonableness -- but hoping for a different result. Time will tell -- maybe the result will be genuinely different.

UPDATE 9:00: More precinct results. Precinct 6 (Twain School) is southeast Iowa City; it contains parts of Twain, Grant Wood, and Longfellow attendance areas, and makes up 8% of the total voters. They chose Swesey, McGinness, Hemingway, and Hoelscher, in that order. Fields was at 40%.

Precinct 7 (City High) is the central east side, and contains parts of Hoover, Lucas, Longfellow, and Mann attendance areas. It makes up 12% of the total voters. It’s Phil Hemingway’s precinct. (Mine, too.) They chose Swesey, Hoelscher, McGinness, and Hemingway. Fields was at 38%.

Precinct 8 (Lemme School) is the east side, farther out. Lemme, Lucas, and the outer parts of Longfellow attendance areas. Makes up about 7% of the total voters. Home precinct of Patti Fields, Sally Hoelscher, Marla Swesey, and Karla Cook. They chose Swesey, Hoelscher, McGinness, and Hemingway. Fields was at 34%.

Precinct 9 is Hills and surrounding areas. It makes up about 1% of the total voters, and is Julie VanDyke’s precinct. They were the only precinct to go for VanDyke (69-31%). For the four-year term, they chose Swesey, Hemingway, McGinness, and Porter (by one vote over Hoelscher). Fields got 11%.

Early voting: In recent years, early voting has made up about 10-12% of the total votes cast. In 2009, the early voting totals came pretty close to predicting the winners of the election, though not in exactly the right order. This year, early voters chose the four winners in the same order that they won district-wide: Swesey, McGinness, Hoelscher, and Fields. Hemingway was at 37%.

UPDATE 8:50: Some precinct-by-precinct results. Precinct 1 is Coralville. It makes up about 14% of the total voters. It’s Jeff Alden’s precinct. They chose McGinness, Fields, Alden, and Swesey, in that order. (I think I read on John Deeth’s blog that Fields has a home in Coralville, despite her east side mailing address.) Hemingway did very poorly here: 23%.

Precinct 2 is North Liberty, making up about 12% of the total voters. In the 2009 election, this precinct was something of a counter-indicator; Anne Johnson got 77% here, but lost; Sarah Swisher got only 25%, but came in first district-wide. This year, they chose McGinness, Alden, Swesey, and Fields, in that order. Hemingway at 25%.

Precinct 3 (Lincoln School) is downtown, Manville, west University campus, and the Foster Road area. It contains parts of Lincoln, Mann, Longfellow, Horn, and Roosevelt attendance areas, and makes up 21% of the total voters. They chose Swesey (with 81%!), McGinness, Hoelscher, and Porter. Hemingway at 34%, Fields at 40%.

Precinct 4 (Horace Mann School) is northeastern Iowa City: Goosetown, areas north of Rochester Avenue and east of Dubuque Street. It contains all or part of Shimek, Hoover, and Mann attendance areas, and makes up 10% of the total voters. They chose Swesey, Hoelscher, McGinness, and Hemingway, all of whom were above 50%. Fields was at 36%.

Precinct 5 (West High) is the west side, not including Manville. It includes parts of Horn, Mann, Roosevelt, Weber, and Twain attendance areas, and makes up 15% of the total voters. It’s the home precinct of Jeff McGinness and Bob Porter. They chose McGinness, Swesey, Hoelscher, and Fields. Fields was at 47%; Hemingway at 37%.

More to come in a few minutes.

UPDATE 8:40: West High continues to be the bellwether district: For the second election in a row, the candidates who won at West High also won district-wide. Not true of any other precinct in either year.

UPDATE 8:32: City is in and Hemingway is still narrowly in fifth place. I'll get the numbers up in a minute. But for now, it looks like the winners are Cook, McGinness, Swesey, Hoelscher, and Fields.

UPDATE 8:30: Wow, votes come in fast. All we're waiting for now is City High -- Hemingway's home precinct.

UPDATE 8:00: The polls are now closing. I don’t know how quickly the results will start coming in when they come, so I’m going to concentrate on keeping the district-wide vote totals as up-to-the-minute as I can, and then add some precinct-by-precinct commentary down here when I get a spare moment.

One of the most interesting questions of the night will be how Patti Fields does. Because she’s the only incumbent, she’s been the lightning rod for people who are discontent with the current board. If the voters were asked which candidate they would most like to see lose, I think Fields (or maybe Alden) would come in first -- but that’s not how this election works. She has a core of supporters, and all she needs is fourth place or better. I have no idea what to predict.

As for the rest of the field, we might get some ideas by looking at the 2009 results. Though people tend to talk of the district as being split between east and west sides, the reality is more complicated. In 2009, the east side precincts all voted pretty similarly. But the west side voted very differently than North Liberty and Coralville did. This is probably because the third high school appeals more to those who will be in its attendance area than to those who will be left behind at West. The result is that the candidates that appealed to the east side had the advantage of a unified support base. Mike Cooper and Anne Johnson both did well on the west side, North Liberty, and Coralville, but Cooper’s win came largely because he did much better than Johnson on the east side. But just appealing to the east side alone won't do the trick; Jean Jordison’s support was so heavily concentrated on the east side that she lost.

Ironically, I think that principle gives our west-side candidates an edge this year. McGinness lives on the west side but grew up on the east side, so he seems well-positioned to draw on multiple parts of town the way Mike Cooper did. And Bob Porter, though he lives on the west side, doesn’t come across as a “west side” candidate; his background is in working for the district administration, and he doesn’t currently have any kids in school. Meanwhile, five of the eight candidates for the four-year term are east-siders, which means they may be fighting over the same set of votes. The remaining candidate, Jeff Alden, whose support for a new high school will probably appeal mainly to North Liberty and Coralville voters, seems likely to be this year’s Anne Johnson.

But I’m probably way off. It’s crazy to make predictions.

UPDATE 7:00: I’ll take this moment of down time to link to my latest non-election-related post. You wouldn’t know it by following the school board election, but there really are different ways to think about how kids learn, about how motivation works, and about the messages we send kids by the way we treat them. The choices we make on those issues could make big differences in how we operate our schools. What choices is our district making? Are they even conscious ones?

UPDATE 6:30: Am passing the time by looking up Iowa election recount laws. (Not that I'm hoping for a good storyline to spice up the evening . . .) They look pretty liberal -- I'd have to spend more time reading through them to be sure, but it looks like anyone can get a recount if they’re willing to put up a small bond (in this situation, one hundred dollars -- big deal!), and even that requirement gets waived if the election is close enough. With eight candidates competing for four seats, it seems very possible that we could end up with some closely bunched vote totals. Of course, all that really matters is the difference between fourth and fifth place.

UPDATE 5:24: Having ten candidates in the race could also have a negative effect on turnout, I suppose. Too many people to read about and figure out?

It might also have an effect on how many votes are cast by the people who do vote. In the election for the four-year seat, each voter can cast four votes. If everyone who voted were to cast all four of them, no candidate could win with less than 50%. But there are always some people who don’t use all their votes. In 2009, voters could cast three votes, but on average cast only 2.7. As a result, Mike Cooper won by a comfortable margin even though only 47% of the voters chose him. So, if we get about 5000 voters this year, maybe someone could take fourth place -- and thus win -- with only about 2300 votes? I could see that number going even lower this year; a lot of people are coming out to vote for a particular candidate, but may not know anything about the other candidates. In particular, I’ve noticed a lot of people struggling to decide how to cast that fourth vote.

UPDATE 3:35: Thought experiment: How do you think the outcome might differ if we held the election in November, when the City Council elections are held and when turnout is usually several points higher? How about if we held the election in November in a Presidential year, when turnout gets up toward 80%? Who gains and who loses from the fact that we choose a date for the election that seems designed to minimize participation?

UPDATE 3:20: Turnout as of 3:00 is 2.39%, as compared to 2.2% at that time in 2009. If turnout progresses at the same rate as in 2009, we'd end up at about 6.5%. That would mean about 5000 voters voting.

UPDATE 12:30: Turnout as of 11 a.m. still a little higher than 2009: 1.1% versus .98%. Is it because people are more riled up about school issues? Or just because we've never had so many candidates (ten) getting out the vote?

According to the County Auditor, this is the highest 11 a.m. turnout since 1995, when the bond to construct Wickham School was on the ballot. The Auditor also reports that 349 early ballots have been received. In 2009, there were 415. I suppose more may still trickle in, though.

UPDATE 10:00 am: Turnout by 9 a.m. is slightly up from 2009: a whopping .56%, as opposed to .51% in 2009. (which was a very high turnout year). By the end of the day, maybe we will break 2009's mark of 6% turnout.


Julie VanDyke said...

I wonder how prominently early voting will affect the election? It's a shame the auditor's office isn't displaying the number of early voters (prior to election day) as of, oh, maybe yesterday's numbers. http://www.johnson-county.com/auditor/returns/1109turn.htm or http://www.johnson-county.com/auditor/returns/1109sch.htm

Tuyet Dorau said...

I hope we shatter the voter turn out from 2009!

Good luck to everyone. I look forward to working with you regardless of whether or not the voters select you as a board member.

Chris said...

Julie -- I think that number is now up -- see my 12:30 update above.

Chris said...

Tuyet -- Me too. But I'm actually a little surprised that the turnout isn't higher, given that there are ten candidates getting out their supporters.

Chris said...

If the turnout follows the same pattern as in 2009, it looks like we might end up close to 7%.

Julie VanDyke said...

Hi Chris - I see it on the release http://www.johnson-county.com/auditor/releases/2011%20school%2011%20AM%20turnout.pdf but it doesn't look like they've added it to the % at http://www.johnson-county.com/auditor/returns/1109turn.htm

Chris said...

Julie -- Yes, you're right. I think in previous years they've included the early voting only in the 8 pm total turnout figure, but not in the figures from earlier in the day.

Tuyet Dorau said...

I'm expecting things stay steady at the 3 PM count, but am hoping turn out will dramatically increase at the 8 PM count as most people vote after work.

Chris said...

Tuyet -- That's how it went in 2009 -- jumped from 2.2% at 3:00 to over 6% by the end of the day.

billyzelsnack said...

Lame. Longfellow voting is at City High.

Chris said...

Billy -- That's a consequence of the fact that we put the election at such an odd time. We know the turnout won't be high enough to justify staffing 20+ voting stations, so we have to make people go to unfamiliar polling places, thereby reducing turnout even more, etc.

Who benefits?

billyzelsnack said...

The incumbent.

Jeff McGinness said...

I'm bored Chris. Please entertain us : )

Chris said...

Jeff -- Ha! Get used to it. Why do you think they call it the Bored of Ed?

Chris said...

Billy -- Hard to argue with that. And the status quo generally. But will it be enough?

Christy said...

Just voted at City High. Each line (check in, get ballot, etc.) was about eight people deep. Poll workers said it had been steady busy all day.

Chris said...

Christy -- Thanks for the info! Anyone else have any reports from the field?

Maeve Clarke said...

Thanks for the election coverage, Chis. Good stuff.


Jeff McGinness said...


Thanks for all your coverage and thoughtful analysis.

Peter Small said...


This is a great blog. You are performing a real service here. I heard about this blog a few days ago and finally looked at it this afternoon as I was trying to both remember candidates names and make a final decision about who to vote for.

Whether by design or not, the whole system for electing school board members, from the off election date, the different voting sites and the short window between candidate registration and elections, seems designed to keep the turnout as low as possible.

I'll have more to say . . . Keep up the good work.

Doris said...

Hi, Chris. I just wanted to say thanks again for all the hard work you have put in to generate debate about not just this school board election but also about what's going on in public elementary and secondary education more broadly.

Teacher said...

I know I am in the minority in my profession in that I agreed with only one of the ICEA endorsements; I am curious as to how serious the voters believe the lack of transparency is in the ICCSD.

My interpretation of the voting results is that the majority of the voters do not view transparency as a major concern.

Chris said...

Teacher -- That's certainly a fair interpretation. I'd put it a little differently: I think the majority of voters do not view issues as a major concern. The voting seems to be driven more by personality, temperament, and experience. That's a defensible voting strategy, I think -- it's just not so much mine.

Teacher said...

Chris - What an interesting possibility, that voters base their choices more on personality, temperament and experience than on issues. I believe that you have a valid point, and that in some cases such an approach may be defensible. On the other hand, it can also be viewed as a symptom of a lazy electorate...or, maybe a symptom of an electorate that has turned into the infamous "useful idiots".

KD said...

Thanks for your election coverage and commentary, Chris.

I would have liked to see either Phil Hemingway or Julie Van Dyke win.

Patti Fields said...

Btw, Chris. I live on the very east side of Iowa City and certainly cannot afford to have two homes nor two addresses. I don't know where you got that but maybe you could check with me before posting something like that. My office is located in Coralville and I may spend more time there working than I spend in my home, but it wouldn't count as me living there.

Chris said...

Patti -- Thanks for the correction, and I apologize for spreading misinformation. (At least I waited until the polls closed!) Turns out I misremembered this reference to Toni Cilek on John Deeth's blog.

Doris said...

Hi, Chris. I'm not sure I buy that distinction you draw between voting on issues and voting on personality / temperament / experience. If the distinction does hold water, you'd need some sort of evidence to bolster your claims (exit polls, etc.). But often I think that the manner in which a candidate frames her or his stance on an issue impacts my perception of what that stance actually is--maybe sometimes unfairly, but not necessarily so.

I mean, I think you provide an interesting case study for how this works: I enjoy many of your forays into the much-maligned genre of invective (a.k.a. your rants), but they are typically more persuasive when the invective is actually something of a bait-and-switch operation. That is, they work best for me when you draw the reader in with borderline hyperbolic claims but then set forth carefully reasoned arguments in support of your ideas.

Actually, I need to find a better example, don't I? I'll try again later but will post this now as something of a bookmark for a conversation I'd like to pursue when I have more time.

Chris said...

Doris -- I'm not sure I buy it either; it's really just a gut sense. Live-blogging definitely takes a toll on deliberateness . . .