“It has been unfortunate that we’ve seen the low turnout,” Pate told Radio Iowa, “but I want to thank those that did participate. I think their voices are going to carry a lot more clout than if they sat on the sidelines.”
With all the talk about voters “wanting change,” Pate had expected higher participation in the primaries.
“We had a US Senate race with a very serious group of candidates on the Democrat side. You had several congressional race, both Democrats and Republicans had primaries,” Pate says. “…I’m going to pick on my own home county of Linn. We had Monica Vernon and Rob Hogg, who were locals. I expected much bigger numbers.”
Participation in the Iowa Caucuses on February 1 was far higher than turn-out in yesterday’s primaries.
In Mason City, Sandy Shonka, the deputy auditor in Cerro Gordo County, said only two-percent of eligible voters had cast ballots during the first six hours the polls were open in her county.
“We do not have any local races,” Shonka said. “That may be why the (primaries) are not drawing a lot of attention.”
In central Iowa, Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald said there was keen interest in three local primaries for seats in the Iowa legislature.
“The level of interest is always based on the local folks, the people you’re going to see at the grocery store, at the gas station,” Fitzgerald told Radio Iowa, “so in the seven races we had in Polk County, the local races seemed to drive turnout more so than people running for US Senate and US House.”
At one polling place in Linn County, there was the smell of smoke, but no fire. Deputy Linn County Auditor Tim Box said it happened in precinct #14 in Cedar Rapids, at the Buffalo United Methodist Church.
“My understanding right now is they smelled smoke and they thought maybe it was something coming from the vents, called the fire department,” Box said. “Basically, they had to move out of the building for, it looks like, less than an hour. They just set up shop out front.”
The voting equipment was moved outside and voting continued in front of the church. Box said keeping the precinct open at the same address avoided confusion.
“Your last choice is to relocate the polling place,” Box told Radio Iowa. “It’s hard to get people to go. You have to post signs and find another place to go, obviously, and then direct them.”
Box said there was “minimal inconvenience” and no one in the precinct left without voting.
“As far as an evacuation goes, it went as smoothly as we can probably expect,” Box said, with a laugh.
Firefighters couldn’t pinpoint a cause of the smoky smell and gave the “all-clear” to move voting back inside at about 6:35 p.m., after about 50 minutes of outdoor balloting.
In eastern Iowa, Scott County Auditor Roxanne Moritz said fewer than five-percent of the county’s eligible voters cast ballots.
“My guesstimation was we would see six to nine percent,” Moritz said. “I don’t understand why, but it seems in primaries people just don’t want to participate.”
Moritz, however, wasn’t surprised with the light turnout based on history.
“I think a good indicator was in 2008, when Obama ran, which was probably one of our best (turnout) years in the general election…in the primary, we only had 2.58 percent,” Moritz said.
(Additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s Pat Curtis)