Confusing ballot language could complicate 21-only vote

Published: August 11 2010 | 6:50 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 4:26 am in
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Potential confusion over the ballot language of the city’s 21-only ordinance is complicating an already divisive election issue.

Those in favor of Iowa City’s new 21-only ordinance – 21 Makes Sense and its supporters – worry confusing ballot language may influence the election outcome. However, those opposed to the new minimum bar entry age – Yes to Entertaining Students Safely or Y.E.S.S. and its supporters – say any voter confusion won’t make a significant impact.

“Of course there’s potential for voter confusion with the way the city phrases referendums on the ballot,” said Nick Westergaard, campaign manager for 21 Makes Sense.

Here’s what’s causing the concern: The vote this November is whether voters want to uphold a citizen-led petition that would get rid of the 21-only ordinance and not simply whether or not a person supports the ordinance.

So, for those in favor of the petition and opposed to the ordinance, vote “yes." And those opposed to the petition, and in favor of the new city’s minimum bar entry age, should vote “no.”

”I think what voters are generally confused about is why they are voting on this issue again after it was defeated three years ago,” said Matt Pfaltzgraf, campaign manager for Y.E.S.S.

Both campaigns say despite their best efforts to educate voters, they recognize some may vote opposite of what they wanted to; however, campaigns disagree if mis-marked boxes will give either side a beneficial bump.

”I think there’s potential for that on any side,” Westergaard said.

Pfaltzgraf said Y.E.S.S. is not anticipating getting much of a bump from the potential confusion but “if there is, then great.”

Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett plans to discuss whether to clarify the ballot language with county attorney Janet Lyness.

In a written statement, Lyness said she’ll review the language to make sure it is “legally sufficient.”

”Most of the confusion comes with how they [21 Makes Sense] chose their name,” Pfaltzgraf said. “They chose a name that made it sound like “Yes, I agree to that.” So that’s how voters are going to perceive that. I think it might make more sense if they wanted to change their name then if they wanted to change the ballot question itself.”

If the ballot wording isn’t altered, it will be up to those for and against the 21 only ordinance to educate voters.

”At the end of the day – message aside – there’s Election Day and there’s a yes or a no to check and all of our efforts are for naught if people don’t know what they need to do on November 2,” Westergaard said.

Slockett will decide whether to alter the ballot language by the end of August due to printing demands.

Pfaltzgraf said Y.E.S.S. will resist any attempt to alter the language, as there is not precedent for doing so in other Johnson County elections.

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