Counting Ballots

Clay County Deputy Auditor Nicole Klunder and Vermillion City Finance Officer Mike Carlson run ballots through a tabulating machine Tuesday night in the Clay County Courthouse in Vermillion. Their work eventually determined voters' decisions in the Vermillion mayoral race, the Vermillion School Board race and the Clay County bond election.

Clay County voters Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected the Clay County Commission’s decision March 30 to ask citizens’ approval of a $41 million bond issue to finance the construction of a new county jail, law enforcement safety center, courts, government services, land acquisition costs, and current courthouse stabilization and exterior preservation.

Voters within the City of Vermillion also gave a positive nod to incumbent Mayor Kelsey Collier-Wise, who topped four opponents by a sizeable margin to win a one-year term as mayor beginning in July.

Vermillion School Board incumbent Rachel Olson and candidate Shane Nordyke were the top two vote-getters in the three-person race for two open positions on the Vermillion School Board. Olson and Nordyke also will begin their terms in July.

Olson’s current term will end later this month. School Board member Tim Schwasinger, whose term is also ending, chose not to seek re-election.

Tuesday’s event in Clay County – an election that combined county, city and school district ballots – attracted a strong turnout for a June election. Of the county’s 8,104 active voters, 2,338 went to the polls Tuesday. That’s a turnout of 28.8 percent.

If the county’s $41 million bond issue had been approved, the funds would have been used to construct new facilities at a different site other than the present century-old Clay County Courthouse in Vermillion. Both the courthouse and the current law enforcement center, which were constructed in 1912 and 1989, respectively, would have been vacated.

Several county citizens opposed to abandoning the courthouse launched an advocacy group entitled “Save Our Historic Clay County (SD) Courthouse.” The group also launched a Facebook page urging citizens to vote against the bond issue and to work toward solutions that would solve problem that would lead to construction of a new jail and renovation of the courthouse to keep it the center of county government.

“The voters have spoken loudly with a two to one opposition vote on this bond issue. We now have a new opportunity to involve the public in solving the problems facing our county,” said Pat Gross Tuesday night. Gross is among a growing number of local citizens who became involved in the “Save Our Historic Clay County (SD) Courthouse” group since its launch in early April.

“It’s now obvious that abandoning our historic courthouse is not an option, so we need to find a way to solve our problems with reasonable and affordable solutions,” he said. “We look forward to working with our county officials to that end.”

Clay County Commission Chairman Travis Mockler said he is disappointed with the results of the bond election.

“I think going forward our main concern right now is to figure out what to do with the jail,” he said Wednesday. “If we’re going to house all of our prisoners outside of the county in the near future, we’ve got to figure out how to pay for it … what’s our next best option to not have to pay other counties to house our prisoners, because that’s just a bill that will never go away.”

The Clay County Facility Planning Committee, consisting of a range of citizen volunteers, worked for more than two years and conducted close to 100 meetings to study the most cost-efficient solution to address the county needs. It made it clear that there was no intention to tear down the existing historic courthouse.

Those supporting the measure said the new facilities were needed to meet modern needs. Opponents questioned the dollar amount, what facilities were needed and whether enough study had been done of alternatives for the current courthouse and jail/law enforcement center.

Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe, one of the bond supporters, advocated for a new jail and law enforcement center. He noted not only the current conditions but also the potential problems associated with continued use of the current facilities.

In addition, the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company (VCDC) board of directors unanimously supported, with two abstentions, passage of the bond issue. The two abstaining members were City Manager John Prescott and Board of Directors Vice-Chair Jeff Erickson.

Of the 2,310 Clay County voters that cast ballots to whether the county should seek a $41 million bond issue, 1,544 voted “no.” That equates to approximately 66.8 percent of voters indicating they do not favor the county’s plan.

The bond issue was opposed by a large measure in nearly every voting ward in the county and in the city of Vermillion. It was opposed 81 to 30 in Rural Ward 1, 79 to 30 in Rural Ward 2 and 246 to 140 in Rural Ward 3.

In the City of Vermillion, its supporters nearly matched its detractors in the Northeast Ward, where 71 people voted for the bond and 80 cast ballots against it. In every other Ward of the city, opposition to the issue was strong. It was opposed 179 to 87 in the Central Ward, 284 to 168 in the Northwest Ward and 595 to 240 in the Southeast Ward.

In the mayoral race, incumbent Collier-Wise topped a five-person field of candidates seeking a one-year term of office.

Other candidates were Ryun Fischbach, Tammy Seney Baisden, Ryan S. Church and Aaron Kerkhove.

Collier-Wise was president of the Vermillion City Council in April 2020 when Mayor Jack Powell died. She was appointed mayor by fellow members of the city council shortly after his death. Tuesday’s election was to decide who would complete the remaining year of Powell’s term as mayor.

Collier-Wise received 886, or a bit more than 52 percent of the 1,696 total votes cast in the mayoral election. She garnered 181 votes in the Central Ward, 66 votes in the Northeast Ward, 186 votes in the Northwest Ward and 453 votes in the Southeast Ward.

“I'm truly honored that the community has given me the opportunity to serve another year. My first year as Mayor was really challenging, so I feel like I'm prepared for whatever is ahead, but I'm looking forward a lot of positivity and progress on the horizon,” she said. “Vermillion is such a fantastic town and I just feel really blessed to get to work with so many fantastic people to make it even better.”

Fischbach received a total of 391 votes, which equates to about 23 percent of the total vote. He received 45 votes in the Central Ward, 41 votes in the Northeast Ward, 124 votes in the Northwest Ward and 181 votes in the Southeast Ward.

Church collected a total of 216 votes in the mayoral race, which is nearly 13 percent of the total cast. He received 17 votes in the Central Ward, 25 votes in the Northeast Ward, 66 votes in the Northwest Ward and 108 votes in the Southeast Ward.

Baisden received approximately 10.5 percent of the vote, with a total of 178. She received 20 votes in the Central Ward, 20 votes in the Northeast Ward, 61 votes in the Northwest Ward and 77 votes in the Southeast Ward.

Kerkhove’s total of 25 votes is nearly 1.5 percent of the total votes cast. He received 1 vote in the Central Ward, zero votes in the Northeast Ward, 12 votes in the Northwest Ward and 12 votes in the Southeast Ward.

Patrons of the Vermillion School District cast a total of 3,145 votes in Tuesday’s election to decide two winners in a three-person race. Incumbent Olson received 1,414 votes, which equates to about 45 percent of the total.

Coming in second is Nordyke, with 1,070 votes or 34 percent of the total. Olson and Nordyke will be sworn in next month to begin three-year terms on the school board.

A third candidate, Wade A. Larson, received 661 votes which is about 21 percent of the total votes cast in the school board race.

Voter turnout was quite high in the City of Vermillion’s Southeast Ward. Of 1,997 active voters, 846 cast ballots. That’s 42 percent.

Voter turnout in other wards in the city and county were lower, but fairly consistent. In Rural Ward 1, of 528 active voters, 111 voted (21 percent). In Rural Ward 2, of 549 active voters, 109 cast ballots (20 percent). There were 386 ballots cast in Rural Ward 3 among its 1,334 active voters, which equates to 29 percent.

In the City of Vermillion’s Central Ward, 271 of it 1,073 active voters showed up at the polls (25 percent). The city’s Northeast Ward didn’t fare as well, with 154, or 16 percent, of its active 981 voters casting ballots.

There are 1,642 active voters in Vermillion’s Northwest Ward. Of that number, 461, or 28 percent, participated.

The term of Central Ward Councilperson Lindsey Jennewein will be ending later this month and she filed nominating petitions to seek re-election. No other individual sought her position in the Central Ward, so she will begin a new three-year term in July and her name did not appear on the Tuesday’s ballot.

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