DAVENPORT, IOWA (March 2, 2021) — Scott County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Roxanna Moritz announced today that her office learned yesterday, March 1, 2021, that her staff had missed an e-mail from staff of the Secretary of State noting that an emergency directive regarding absentee-voting at health-care facilities, primarily nursing homes, also put into effect a new section of the Iowa Code which requires that at least 65 percent of polling places be opened in an election in which any emergency directive involving all precincts is in effect. Moritz learned this information from Molly Widen, Legal Counsel for Secretary of State Paul Pate, during a telephone conversation regarding the election. Widen had previously sent an email on February 8, 2021 regarding the effect of the emergency directive on limiting the reduction in polling places.
“My staff and I began planning the election in early January after we learned that the various school boards had passed resolutions for voter-approval of revenue purpose-statements. We then learned that the Eastern Iowa Community College District wanted a referendum on a bond issue. From past experience we knew these would be low-turnout elections, and we decided to use vote-centers as a cost-saving measure.” Moritz said. “My office has used vote-centers in the past as a cost-savings measure, especially for school elections, which are often low-turn-out elections,” Moritz added.
Iowa Code Section 49.11(3)(b) allows the county commissioner of elections to establish vote-centers in special school elections. Recent Scott County elections using vote-centers include one for the Davenport School District in 2018 with a 4.64-percent turn-out; one for the Davenport School District in 2016 with a 2.66-percent turn-out; and one for the Bettendorf School District in 2015 with a 7.6-percent turnout.
“We had finalized that plan to use vote centers and started to set up the election in late January. That plan included opening 12 vote-centers, two each in the Bettendorf, North Scott, and Pleasant Valley School Districts, and six in the Davenport School District,” Moritz said.
“On February 8, 2021, at 5:10PM, Legal Counsel to Secretary Pate sent an e-mail regarding an emergency directive from the Secretary regarding absentee-voting by residents of health-care facilities, and that this directive put into effect a new section of the Iowa Code which limits the reduction in polling places to no more than 35 percent,” Moritz said.
The effect of this law requires that at least 41 of Scott County’s 63 regular polling locations be open for an election in which there is an emergency directive. It was passed last year.
“Unfortunately, neither I nor my staff reviewed the e-mail and did not learn about its importance until discussing another matter with the Secretary’s Legal Counsel. We discussed the matter with her, and she agreed that it was too late to make any changes in the election,” Moritz said.
“Our whole goal in using vote centers is to save money for our schools and tax payers in what are extremely low turnout elections,” Moritz said.
As of 11AM today, less than one percent of registered voters has cast ballots, including absentee-ballots.