History of Johnson County Office Holders (complete 1955 - present)
Johnson County Presidential results, 1920-2020
Highest and Lowest Turnout
Voter turnout rises and falls with the type of election. Turnout has also tended to increase over the years as more people have won the right to vote and as Johnson County's population has grown. The best way to look at turnout is to compare similar elections.
The November 3, 2020 election was the sixth consecutive presidential year election in which Johnson County set a new turnout record, with 84,198 voters. Johnson County has set a turnout record in seven of the last eight presidential elections (the exception was 1996).
The November 6, 2018 election set a new mid-term record with 68,262 voters.
Johnson County voters set a new turnout record in the June 2, 2020 primary. 29,142 voters participated.
15,728 Iowa City voters participated in the November 6, 2007 election, which featured a ballot issue on the bar admission age in addition to city council races.
The highest percentage turnout special election was the February 9, 1999 Swisher water utility election. The turnout of 70.16% more closely resembled a presidential election than a special election.
The lowest turnout election in recent years was the September 8, 1992 school board election. County-wide, 1,307 out of 59,910 registered voters participated, for a turnout of 2.18%. The Iowa City Community School District had no contested races and saw turnout of less than one percent.
Highest Turnout for a Precinct
1,826 people voted on Election Day in North Liberty Precinct 1 in the 2008 presidential election. North Liberty 1 was one of three precincts that voted at the North Liberty Community Center in 2008, with a total of 3,145 voters. Note that in 2012, North Liberty went from two precincts to six because of population growth.
The record for a combined school precinct is 1,975 at the North Liberty library (combined School Precinct 2) in the September 12, 2017 school election.
Satellite Voting Site
The largest single day, single site satellite voting total was 1343 early voters for the 2010 general election (which also featured a referendum on the Iowa City bar admission age) on September 28, 2010 at Burge Hall on the University of Iowa campus.
The highest percentage of the total vote cast before Election day was 76.76% in the June 2, 2020 primary election. A statewide absentee ballot request mailing contributed to the record early voting.
Highest Vote Totals for Candidates
Presidential Election Year
The highest vote total recorded for any candidate or issue in Johnson County history, contested or uncontested, was 64,011 for Sheriff Brad Kunkel in 2020. Kunkel was unopposed. The record for a contested race belongs to President Biden with 59,177 votes.
Gubernatorial Election Year
In 2018 County Treasurer Tom Kriz (D) set a new record for most votes in an off-year election, with 56,508 votes in an unopposed race.
The highest vote totals for any city candidates were set in the November 6, 2007 election. District A incumbent Ross Wilburn won 10,449 votes in his uncontested race. At-Large candidate Matt Hayek won 9,485 votes to set the record for a contested race.
Voter Registration Statistics
Most Registered Voters
With thousand of Election Day registrations at the 2020 presidential election, active status voter registration in Johnson County broke the 100,000 mark for the first time. Registration peaked at 100,761 on December 3, and stayed above 100,000 until annual list maintenance mailings in February 2021.
Highest and Lowest percentages by party, 1977-present
Johnson County voter registration is currently near an all time high percentage for registered Democrats and an all time low for No Party voters. On June 12 registration peaked at 55.00% Democratic, and bottomed out at 25.64% for No Party. The record percentages are due to the presidential caucuses, the primary election, and a county-wide voter registration maintenance mailing. The Democratic percentage has dropped and the No Party percentage has grown since the 2020 primary, but both are still beyond previous records going back to 1976.
While our records are incomplete prior to 1982, the highest No Party registration percentage we can identify is 44.85%, immediately after the 1980 presidential election. This is also when Democratic registration was at an all time low at 36.27%. No Party registration last led Democratic registration in Johnson County from the 2000 presidential election until the 2004 caucuses.
The highest Republican percentage was 24.37% in June 1994, just after the all-time record turnout Republican primary. The lowest Republican percentage we can identify is 17.39% at the 1977 city election. Republicans were close to this level at 17.72% in April 2020, but their registration increased with high primary turnout in June 2020.
The Libertarians lost their full party status in 2018, but still have organization status. Their share of Johnson County voters peaked at 0.80% during late 2018 and early 2019.
The Greens peaked at 0.81% in early 2003, at the time they lost full party status. Their highest level as a non-party organization (2008-present) was 0.25% during late 2016 and early 2017.
Republican Candidates and Officials
Not trying to be partisan here - we get this one a lot. Our "People's Republic of Johnson County" reputation as the most Democratic county in Iowa goes back a long time. As long ago as 1912 we were the top Iowa county for Woodrow Wilson. In 2016, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley won 98 of Iowa's 99 counties. Johnson County was the exception.
Many registered Republicans currently hold non-partisan offices in Johnson County such as city council, school board and township officials. A number of statewide and congressional Republican candidates have also won majorities in recent years in Johnson County.
Supervisor John Etheredge won a March 2013 special election, and served until he lost in the 2014 general election. Etheredge was the first Republican to win a county-wide office since Sheriff Gary Hughes (1973-88), who won the last of his four terms in 1984 and did not seek re-election in 1988.
The last Republican to win a general election for the Board of Supervisors was Oren Alt (1957-62). Alt was elected to three year terms in 1956 (for a term beginning in 1957) and 1958 (for a term beginning in 1960) and was defeated in 1962. (Board terms were three years until the 1960s.)
In 1960, Richard Nixon defeated John F. Kennedy 10,927 to 10,563 in Johnson County while losing the national election. In his subsequent campaigns in 1968 and 1972, Nixon won nationally but lost Johnson County.
Senator Chuck Grassley won every county in Iowa, including Johnson County, in four consecutive elections (1986, 1992, 1998, and 2004). In 2010 and 2016, Grassley won every county in the state except Johnson County.
Former Representative Jim Leach won Johnson County seven times in the twelve elections in which his district included Johnson County (1974-80, 1992-2006), with his last win in 2004.
Five-term Republican Governor Robert Ray won Johnson County in his last three races (1972, 1974, and 1978) after losing the county in his first two tries (1968, 1970). The governor's term was lengthened from to two years to four years beginning in 1974.
The last Republican to win a statewide race in Johnson County over a Democratic opponent was Secretary of State Mary Jane Odell in 1982. State Auditor Richard Johnson won Johnson County in 1998 over opponents from the Reform and Natural Law parties. In 2006, State Auditor David Vaudt was unopposed.
Representative Bobby Kaufmann's (R-Wilton) district is primarily in Cedar County but includes part of Johnson and Muscatine counties.
The last Republican elected to a state legislative seat primarily or entirely within Johnson County was Rep. Dale Hibbs (1979-1980), who was elected to one term in 1978 and did not seek re-election.
Iowa law requires a political party to win at least 2 percent of the votes for governor or president each general election to earn and keep full political party status. The Democrats and Republicans have long had full party status.
Effective January 1, 2008, Iowa has established a procedure by which parties which do not qualify for full party status can qualify for "political organization" status. Political organizations are listed on voter registration forms, but do not have primary elections. The Libertarians and Greens gained organization status in 2008. The Greens had previously held full party status from 2000 to 2002.
In 2016, the Libertarian presidential candidate won more than 2% of the state vote to earn full party status, and there was a Libertarian primary in 2018. The 2018 Libertarian candidate for governor did not earn 2%, and the party has now gone back to organization status.
In recent decades, two other groups have won enough votes to qualify for full party status.
The American Party earned party status in 1968 following George Wallace's presidential candidacy, and lost party status in 1972.
The Reform Party qualified in 1996 after Ross Perot's second presidential campaign, and lost status in 1998.
Two other presidential candidates - John Anderson (1980) and Ross Perot (in his first run in 1992) won more than 2 percent of the statewide vote. Since they ran as candidates nominated by petition and did not name a party, their organizations did not qualify for party status.
No third party candidate for governor has won over 2 percent of the statewide vote since Robert Dilley of the American Party in 1970.
Write-in winners are not uncommon in contests for township office, or for city offices in our county's smaller cities. Seven township officials were elected as write-ins in the 2020 general election. In all cases, fewer people had filed for the office than there were seats open. The write-in winners had between one and six votes each, and two winners were drawn by lot. Write-in winners have the option to decline the office, in which case someone is appointed.
In 2018, no candidate filed for the county-wide office of Soil and Water Commissioner to fill a vacancy for a two year term. Bonnie Riggan, who was serving in the office by appointment, was elected as a write in with just 93 votes out of 3312 cast (2.8%).
Two cities had write-in winners in the November 3, 2015 city election. In University Heights, write-in candidate Wally Heitman defeated incumbent Louise From, who was listed on the ballot, for mayor. Also in University Heights, write-in candidate Jerry Zimmerman was elected in a race to choose five city council members. Zimmerman finished in fifth place, and two other write-in candidates, while not elected, received more votes than two candidates who were on the ballot. Heitman and Zimmerman were the first write-in candidates to defeat candidates listed on the ballot since 2005.
In Oxford, no candidates filed for mayor in 2015, and Mary Sue Jiras was elected. Oxford will again elect a write-in mayor in 2021, as no candidates filed. Three other cities will elect council members by write in - in these cities, fewer candidates filed than the number of seats available.
In the 1983 Iowa City school board election, three write in candidates ran ahead of the two candidates listed on the ballot in a contest for two seats. This was by far the largest scale write-in campaign in recent decades.
The six vote difference between Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Rita Hart was the closest U.S. House margin in the country - not just in 2020, but the closest in the country since 1984. But we've seen elections get even closer.
We see tied results in nearly every general election, usually for township offices where small numbers of write-in votes decide the winners. When that happens, the winner's name is drawn at random.
The largest scale ties in recent decades were two in 1995. Cathy Fitzmaurice and Russell Bailey tied with 65 votes each for mayor of Hills, and Fitzmaurice was selected by lot. Phyllis Connelly was selected for the Solon School Board over Jan Kubik Miller; each had 74 votes.
In a 1999 Iowa City council race, Steven Kanner defeated Charles Major by two votes out of 7,842.
The closest general election race within just Johnson County in recent decades was in 1978. Democrat Dennis Langenberg defeated Republican John Dane for the second seat by 11 votes out of 23,516 voters (0.04%)
Harold M. Donnelly (Dem) 12,585 (53.52%)
Dennis J. Langenberg (Dem) 10,889 (46.30%)
H. John Dane Jr. (Rep) 10,878 (46.26%)
scattered write in 21
Another notable close election was a November 29, 1983 runoff for North Liberty city council, where four candidates were within one vote of each other.
Randy L. Ferdig (on ballot) 38
Thomas A. Stutzman (on ballot) 37
Don Koss (write in) 37
Gordon Rath (write in) 37
scattered write in 1
North Liberty subsequently abolished the runoff requirement.
Most Candidates for an Office
In 1992 , the Iowa ballot included 14 candidates for president.
In the 1976 primary election, 15 candidates were simultaneously running in three separate contests for three seats on the Board of Supervisors:
- Ten Democratic candidates ran for two full-term seats.
- Two Republicans ran for the two full-term seats.
- Three Democrats ran for an unexpired term.
No more than 13 of these candidates appeared on the same ballot.
In the 1979 Iowa City primary, there were a total of 16 candidates in three separate contests for four seats:
- Eight at large candidates competed for four nominations (two to be elected).
- There were four candidates each in two district races (two to be nominated and one to be elected in each district).
No more than 12 of these candidates appeared on the same ballot.