“Friday Night Lights” Voting Enlivens Iowa Elections


[Image via Facebook courtesy of Marengo Pioneer Republican]

This week electionlineWeekly’s Mindy Moretti looks away from the high drama of federal and state election litigation and focuses on something that’s even more important to many communities: high school football.

On a lovely fall evening, with just a wisp of the waxing crescent moon hanging overhead, residents of Tiffin, Iowa did what so many people do on Friday nights in fall.

They gathered at Clear Creek Amana High School to watch the hometown Clippers take on the Chiefs from Keokuk under the lights of Friday night.

However, what made this Friday night different than so many others was that residents could combine their love of football with their civic duty.

For only the second election cycle, the Johnson County Auditor’s Office is taking the ballot box to the voters with its mobile voting unit.

Beginning last week, the mobile vote unit is spending Friday nights at six county football games giving the county’s voters an opportunity vote early and enjoy the gridiron.

“It comes down to voter outreach,” said Travis Weipert, Johnson County auditor. “As we continue to be a society on-the-go we decided to bring voting to the people. Here in Iowa, everyone loves their Friday night football.”

This isn’t the first time the VoteMobile has been used during sporting events.

Last year during a bond vote the votemobile made its debut when auditor’s office set it up at a high school basketball contest. The response was overwhelmingly positive thus leading Weipert and his staff to make the move to football for the 2014 mid-term elections.

When the trailer isn’t being used for voting or voter registration it is used for rural health initiatives. The Rural Health Safety Clinic of Greater Johnson County purchased the 36-foot long trailer in 2013 for public outreach.

After learning about Marshall County’s use of a mobile voter unit during the 2012 election, Weipert got in touch with the health department to see if they could work together. He noted that because the trailer is used for multiple county functions, the cost to his office for use of the trailer is relatively minimal.

Staff of the trailer varies from location to location, but at most voting sites about five staff members work the trailer.

Turnout at a Friday night football game can range from the mid-hundreds to more than a thousand spectators. Weipert doesn’t have an exact number of voters who cast their ballots during the football game but he did add that the votemobile always has a lot of voters no matter where/when it shows up.

According to Weipert, the feedback from the mobile voting unit has been nothing but positive. Although he can’t pinpoint any, he said the only complaints he might hear would be about wasting taxpayer money on early voting.

The auditor’s office does have to get permission to bring the VoteMobile to school events, but Weipert said that has not been a problem. [The office also stresses in its outreach that paid admission to the game is not necessary to cast a ballot.]

“The schools are so excited to have us they pretty much offer any location where we think voters will turnout,” Weipert said.

And the vote mobile doesn’t just limit its visits to public high schools. This week, the votemobile will be there when Regina High School — the only Catholic K-12 education center in Iowa City — takes on Columbus.

Oh and for those wondering, Clear Creek-Amana beat Keokuk 52-7 keeping Clear Creek-Amana perfect at home.

That’s two Johnson Counties – Kansas and Iowa – that are pushing the envelope on putting voters first. Anyone else out there keeping up with the Johnsons?

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