Iowa court tosses Finkenauer petition signatures, forcing her off Senate primary ballot

Finkenauer’s campaign plans appeal to state Supreme Court
Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 11:59 AM CDT
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DES MOINES, Iowa (WOWT) - A state judge ruled Sunday that three signatures on a ballot petition for Abby Finkenauer were invalid, thus rendering her ineligible to appear on Iowa’s ballot as a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

At issue were signatures from Allamakee and Cedar counties. Judge Scott J. Beattie of the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa ruled Sunday night that while the forms collecting signatures for such a petition don’t necessarily have to come from the Secretary of State, they do have to contain all of the same information. As one didn’t contain a date with the signature, another omitted the year, and a third put the ZIP Code where the date should be, the three signatures were deemed invalid by the court.

Referring to it as a “midnight ruling” that was “deeply partisan,” Finkenauer said Monday afternoon that she would appeal it to the state Supreme Court.

A statement issued by Finkenauer’s campaign said that her ballot petition signatures “had already been reviewed by the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office and the bipartisan State Objections Panel, and each time she was determined to have qualified for the U.S. Senate ballot.”

Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett, both registered Republicans, brought the matter to the court after the State Objections Panel — typically comprised of the Secretary of State, the Auditor of State, and the state Attorney General — concluded that Finkenauer’s petition had “substantially complied” with state law when submitted March 10. They also filed objections to ballot petitions filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, but the panel ultimately voted 2-1 to deny objections to both Miller’s and Finkenauer’s signatures.

Iowa law requires a minimum of 3,500 voter signatures to be submitted on a nomination petition, including a minimum of 100 signatures from eligible electors in at least 19 counties.

The court documents state that the two women’s objections, filed March 25, claimed some signature lines were missing information and therefore were not valid, resulting in a lack of the required 100 elector signatures from 19 counties. Some of the missing information included: improperly dated signatures lines, a petition sheet with missing information in the header, signature lines with only a partial address, and specific duplicate signatures.

According to the ruling, Finkenauer’s campaign argued that as Schmett and Pellett would not be voting in the Democratic primary, they were not able to bring the legal challenge. Schmett and Pellett noted that as Iowa is a “same-day registration state,” they could re-register as Democrats even up until the date of Iowa’s primary election. Ultimately, the court sided with the challengers on that point, noting the state statute “says nothing about party affiliation” and refers mainly to the general election.

Schmett and Pellett also argued that AG Miller and State Auditor Rob Sand should have recused themselves from the panel, noting that Miller had himself come before the panel on a similar matter; and that Sand was involved in a separate lawsuit involving Pellett’s lawyer. But the court found that recusal would only be necessary when the objection is directed at a panel member’s nomination. In Miller’s case, he recused himself from the panel vote, even though it wasn’t required. The ruling also noted that Miller displayed no evidence of bias in the matter, voting consistently in similar cases.

“The court takes no joy in this conclusion. This court should not be in the position to make a difference in an election,” the concluding statement reads.

The Iowa GOP called the decision an embarrassment to the state’s Democratic party and took aim at Miller and Sand in their response to the judge’s decision.

“Miller and Sand should be ashamed of their hyper-partisan actions and have more respect for our election laws,” the release states.

Ross Wilburn, chairman of the state’s Democratic party, defended Miller and Sand, saying: “They are devoted public servants who have consistently proven their integrity and ability to put the needs of Iowans above party politics.”

Iowa’s primary election is June 7. The winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley in November. Glenn Hurst and Mike Franken are also currently listed among the Democratic challengers.

Read the Finkenauer campaign’s full statements

“Our campaign submitted more than 5,000 signatures, 1,500 more signatures than are required to qualify for the ballot. We are confident that we have met the requirements to be on the ballot.

This misguided, midnight ruling is an outrageous and partisan gift to the Washington Republicans who orchestrated this meritless legal action.

We are exploring all of our options to fight back hard against this meritless partisan attack, and to ensure that the voices of Iowans will be heard at the ballot box.

Since the beginning of this campaign, I have said that democracy is on the line, and it’s clear now more than ever that Republicans will stop at nothing to silence the voices of Iowans.

Chuck Grassley’s allies in Washington are going to continue launching attack after attack on me – no matter how weak and partisan – because they know we have the momentum to win this race. We are not going to stop, we are going to continue to fight to build the coalition that can defeat Chuck Grassley in November.”

Abby for Iowa statement (Monday morning)

“After careful review, I have decided to challenge this deeply partisan decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

“First, the Republican Secretary of State’s Office accepted our more than 5,000 signatures, 1,500 more than are required, and put me on the U.S. Senate ballot.

“Then, Chuck Grassley’s Republican allies launched a partisan challenge to remove me from the ballot, and that challenge was heard and rejected by the bipartisan State Objections Panel.

“Now, in a massive gift to Washington Republicans, this partisan decision overrules both the Republican Secretary of State’s Office and the bipartisan panel, ignores decades of precedent, interferes in the electoral process, and makes a mockery of our democracy.

“It’s clear now more than ever: Republicans are scared of the campaign we’re building. They’ve gone to historic lengths to slow us down because they know Chuck Grassley is more vulnerable than ever, and that we can beat him in November.

“We refuse to back down in the face of these partisan attacks. We are confident that we have met every requirement to be on the ballot, and we will not stop fighting back against this meritless attack that seeks to silence the voices of tens of thousands of Iowans.”

Abby Finkenauer statement (Monday afternoon)

Read the full Iowa GOP statement

“Despite Tom Miller and Rob Sand’s best effort to use their official offices to help Democrat favorite Abby Finkenauer stay on the ballot, the rule of law has prevailed. Miller and Sand should be ashamed of their hyper-partisan actions and have more respect for our election laws. Miller especially, as the state’s highest elected attorney.

The severe lack of enthusiasm behind Iowa Democrats has real consequences and the first victim to fall is Abby Finkenauer. Not qualifying for the ballot is a complete and utter embarrassment. Finkenauer should have spent more time collecting signatures over going to high-class dinners with D.C. elites. Maybe now Finkenauer will have enough time to go find a real job.

The Democrat establishment is in disarray. With their favorite out of the race, there are only two candidates remaining. Both are still unknown and radically out of touch with Iowans. As inflation continues to grow, gas prices continue to rise, and Democrats continue to recklessly spend money, the year grows darker and darker for Iowa Democrats.”

Iowa Republican Party statement

Read the full Iowa Democrats statement

“Iowa Republicans are clearly worried about how vulnerable Chuck Grassley is this fall. That’s why they’ve turned a nonpartisan process into a shameful political game.

Iowans are tired of opportunistic political attacks by Iowa Republicans who only seek to pit us against each other.

I have the utmost respect and trust in Attorney General Tom Miller and State Auditor Rob Sand. They are devoted public servants who have consistently proven their integrity and ability to put the needs of Iowans above party politics.

I will continue to watch this process as it plays out, but I’m confident that any one of our Democratic Candidates will defeat Chuck Grassley in November and represent Iowans with honor and decency.”

Statement from Ross Wilburn, Iowa Democratic Party chairman

Read the ruling

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