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Can a governmental body covered by Chapter 21 take a secret ballot?

Question: 

Can a governmental body covered by Chapter 21 take a secret ballot?

Answer: 

No. Chapter 21.3 states, “The minutes shall show the results of each vote taken and information sufficient to indicate the vote of each member present. The vote of each member present shall be made public at the open session. The minutes shall be public records open to public inspection.”

It would be acceptable to record a vote as unanimous in the minutes of a meeting, or passed with only [name] dissenting, so long as the members present are noted in the minutes. However, in other cases the “yes” and “no” votes should be reported for each member of a public agency and if an agency is voting whether to go into a closed session it may be prudent to record the vote of each member.

In a Mitchell County District Court case on this issue, McKinley vs. the St. Ansgar City Council, a city council contended that a secret ballot was merely “preferential.” The secret vote narrowed a field of candidates to five who were then approved unanimously by the council members. But a judge ruled that the procedure violated Chapter 21.3.

Sometimes a public agency might be tempted to seek secret ballots on particularly sensitive and controversial matters, but it is precisely on such matters that the votes of individual members should be recorded. For one thing, citizens are entitled to know how their representatives voted; for another, such controversial items are most likely to lead to litigation if there is a possible violation of Chapter 21.

Further, Section 380.4 of the Code of Iowa requires a city council member’s vote to be recorded on any ordinance, amendment or resolution, and 362.2(19) defines “recorded vote” as “a record, roll call vote.”

Printed from the website on September 24, 2020 at 4:16am.