Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 17, 2009
Our View - Petition shows that the system is working
The system works.
After the untimely death of one of the members of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, the county made the understandable decision to fill out the remainder of the term by appointment rather than hold a special election. Enough county residents have signed a petition disagreeing with that decision that now the county is forced to hold a special election.
Because of the estimated costs of a general election -- as well as the likelihood of low voter turnout -- we agreed with the county's decision to appoint someone to fill out the remainder of the late Larry Meyers' term. We likewise called upon the committee -- made up of Auditor Tom Slockett, Recorder Kim Painter and Treasurer Tom Kris -- to put aside ideological and personal concerns and to appoint a clearly qualified candidate.
We do think the committee picked a qualified appointee when it voted 2-1 for Janelle Rettig. But an asterisk gets left next to the name of anyone who rises to elected office through any process other than election. And the past political connections among Rettig and her supporters on the committee -- Painter and Slockett -- have made that asterisk bolder still.
Because the number of signatures required to force a special election (7,299) was based on the record-setting turnout in the 2008 presidential election, the petition organizers had to clear an extremely high bar. And although there are still a few days in which some of the signatures might be challenged, the organizers are to be commended for the commitment and energy needed to collect so many signatures in the few weeks since the initial decision to appoint.
Because of the winter holidays and the university's calendar, the county has set Jan. 19 as the first practical day for the election. That's enough time for the parties to re-constitute their county conventions, for independent candidates to collect signatures and for voters to petition for early satellite voting sites.
But we also think the county auditor should make sure to conduct this election as cost effectively as possible -- especially after his $75,000 estimate has been bandied about so frequently as the primary reason why the county decided to appoint rather than to hold a special election. Early voting, of course, needs to be available at the auditor's office, and state law does require the auditor to hold satellite voting in accessible locations after receiving a petition signed by at least 100 residents. But many other election expenses -- specifically, the number of un-petitioned satellite voting locations -- are at the auditor's discretion.
We're glad to see nearly 8,000 residents express their desire to participate in the choice of who serves on the county board of supervisors. If that number of valid signatures holds, we hope a large number of them actually will come out to the polls on Jan. 19 and do just that.