Sulzner shares protocols for safe primary election

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Janine Sulzner is going out on top.

     As Sulzner prepares for her retirement at the end of this year after 30 years with the county, her final primary election is something to be proud of, especially a success in the midst of a pandemic.

     Jones County saw record turnout during the June 2 primary with almost 4,000 ballots cast.

     “That’s most we’ve ever issued,” Sulzner said, with the last record around 400 ballots.

     Normal primary turnout is between 7 and 10 percent. The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office is saying Iowa saw a 24 percent turnout statewide.

     Locally, Sulzner equates the record turnout to the county supervisor races, which were contested on the Republican side in districts 1 and 5. Her office saw more people than normal request a change in party affiliation just to take part in the local election.

     “It was difficult for some people because they didn’t know they had to pick a party,” she said of the rules in voting in any primary election. (You must be registered with a political party. Registered independents cannot vote in the primary.)

     With no sign of letting up concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, it became apparent to Sulzner in early April that special precautions would have to be taken at the polls on June 2 to ensure the safety of the poll workers and voters.

     “The state was very much on top of things,” she said of communication with her fellow county auditors and the Secretary of State’s Office. “We had conference calls with auditors from every district going over our concerns.”

     Sulzner said the need for emergency election directives were needed.

     Jones County poll workers were equipped with face shields, gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. The PPE was covered by a grant from the Secretary of State’s Office, at no cost to the county. Additionally, Sulzner’s office purchased pens for every voter, as well as plexiglass.

     “We could not reuse pens and security folders,” she said of items that would normally be reused by multiple voters in one day. Every person who voted in-person on June 2 walked out with a pen.

     “All of the poll workers were comfortable with what we provided,” shared Sulzner.

     Because of so many safety measures in place to provide a safe primary election, Sulzner had to amend her budget for an additional $25,000, not knowing how much money would be needed to conduct an unprecedented election.

     “Elections in general are expensive,” said Sulzner.

     Aside from PPE, increased absentee ballots also added to her costs. Those required envelopes, postage, extra staffing, and increased comp time.

     “We had three record-setting days of issuing absentee ballots,” said Sulzner, “bypassing even a presidential election.”

     Adding to the workload was the fact that ballots had to be mailed out to voters within 24 hours of receiving the applications. To stay on top of everything, Sulzner sought the assistance of the staff in the Recorder’s Office.

     While the courthouse was off limits for in-person absentee voting, Sulzner’s staff had to come up with an alternative plan. Initially they thought of using the courthouse garage for voters, but realized it would need to be staffed. Instead, they had voters pull up to the curb in the courthouse parking lot, call the Auditor’s Office or honk their horns, and someone came out to assist them in voting.

     “We heard positive comments about our curb-side absentee voting,” said Sulzner.

     This alternative worked for the primary, but Sulzner explained it would be hard to manage in November for an election that typically sees a higher volume of voters.

     While some counties and states have resorted to limiting the number of precincts for primaries during the pandemic, Sulzner recently decreased Jones County’s precinct sites from 14 down to eight. She said had they reduced it even more, it would just confuse voters.

     When it came to processing absentee ballots, Suzlner had some poll workers assist, giving them a different perspective of voting.

     “They saw how the process works and that every absentee vote was counted,” Sulzner said. “It’s a heavily regulated process, and no one knows how you vote.”

     Not only did this year’s primary take place during a pandemic, but cities all over the country, including here in Iowa, had to deal with protests, too.

     “There were some concerns that the protests here would target small counties,” Sulzner shared. “Thankfully that didn’t end up happening.”

     To make sure everyone was protected in Jones County on June 2, Sulzner called an emergency meeting on Election Day with County Attorney Kristofer Lyons, Sheriff Greg Graver, and Emergency Management Coordinator Brenda Leonard. They discussed providing extra law enforcement patrol near all of the polling sites just in case.

     “We didn’t hear of any issues in Iowa,” reported Suzlner.

     Not knowing how things will look come the Nov. 3 election when it comes to COVID-19, Sulzner is confused as to why the Iowa Senate Republicans would vote to prohibit Secretary of State Paul Pate from issuing mass absentee ballot applications.

     “This resulted in increased participation, way more than any primary election,” she said.


Subscriber Login