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Polk County's voter turnout outpaces record from 2019 races

While 2019 was a record-setting year for the county, this year the Polk County auditor says nearly all those records were shattered.

POLK COUNTY, Iowa — 2019 was the first time city and school elections were combined. This new setup created a positive trend for voter turnout. 

"They combined them and a number of cities saw and school districts saw record turnout," said Polk County Auditor and Elections Commissioner Jamie Fitzgerald. 

But in 2021, Fitzgerald says voter turnout shattered those records in nearly every city. 

"We had a 21% turnout," said Fitzgerald. "While that doesn't sound like a big deal, historically, turnout has been around 6% or 7% before 2019, where we got to 17%. But we saw areas like Ankeny, Johnston, almost everywhere except for the city of Des Moines, Des Moines school district, either get close to our set turnout record yesterday."

Fitzgerald believes that increased turnout could be due to the work candidates put in to make their platforms known. 

"There were a lot of candidates running," said Fitzgerald. "And not only were they running, they were raising money and working. So you got a lot more mail in your mailbox this year, you might have got text messages, you may have been door knock. So city and school elections are usually candidate-driven. And this is no different than any other race where a campaign or candidate for nonpartisan move the needle."

This was the first election to take place following the passage of an Iowa law that dropped the number of early voting days from 29 to 20.

"Despite the legislature changing and making it at times harder for people to vote early, we had 800 more people show up to our election office to vote despite having nine less days," said Fitzgerald. 

Fitzgerald says the new law also prevented 193 absentee ballots from being accepted, as they came in past the new deadline. His office is working to find out if those people voted in person, or if those votes just didn't happen. 

Polk County wasn't the only county to see a jump in turnout. Dallas County also experienced an increase. 

In 2018, 14% of registered voters headed to the polls. This year, 22.89% voted.

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