New Bill Would Make Iowa’s City And School Elections Partisan

Pool photo by Kelsey Kramer/Des Moines Register

By Ty Rushing

January 13, 2023

A new bill introduced by Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) would make Iowa’s historically nonpartisan city council and school board elections into partisan races complete with primaries.

SF23 would affect city council, school board, and merged area elections, but school board races would see the most significant changes. 

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While some Iowa cities hold primary races or allow non-party political organizing committees to select city council nominees, there are no such mechanisms in place to run for school board.

Zaun’s bill would create primary races for school boards and those would occur on the first Tuesday in October the same year regular city council/school board elections are held (those occur on the second Tuesday in November).

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The current requirements to run for school board in Iowa are:

  • A person must reside in the district
  • A person has to be eligible to vote in the state
  • A person has complete the nomination form
  • Lastly, a person has to gather the required amount of signatures  

This bill would also require the formation of school district central committees governed by their respective political parties and it would include the implementation of delegates and precinct caucuses to elect those delegates.

While city and school board elections are nonpartisan, both Democrats and Republicans have used those seats to develop candidates for higher offices down the line; however, in recent years, those contests have become more partisan in everything but name in some areas.

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School board races post-2020, in particular, have been political lightning rods, and a lot of those races in the last cycle focused on more national culture talking points rather than local issues.

Gov. Kim Reynolds also set a new precedent when she endorsed then-Ankeny School Board Candidate Sara Barthole in 2021, something that was rare at the time. Reynolds even attended a fundraiser for Barthole who was one of three conservative, anti-mask mandate candidates elected in that race.

Zaun introduced a similar bill last session.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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