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Category: Iowa (page 1 of 2)

Uncertainty continues for voters as Iowa Supreme Court upholds invalidation of pre-filled ballot request forms

By Clara Ilkka

With less than two weeks to go until the election, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a directive from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate invalidating pre-filled absentee ballot application forms sent out by county auditors in three of Iowa’s most populous counties. Because of the directive, courts have invalidated forms mailed to more than 200,000 voters. Those who sent in a pre-filled form were required to fill out and send in a new, blank form to their county auditors in order to receive an absentee ballot. Iowa’s deadline to request an absentee ballot was October 24th, so voters had only ten days to get their new forms in.

Back on October 5th, a judge in Polk County, Iowa, sided with Democrats and ruled that Pate had exceeded his authority in issuing the directive requiring blank forms. The district judge stopped enforcement of Pate’s directive and said the prefilled ballots were valid. In a quick turnaround, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a stay keeping the directive in place on October 6th.

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Part II: Pre-filled absentee ballot applications cause pre-election headaches for Iowa voters

By Clara Ilkka

This is part II on coverage of Iowa’s absentee ballot application dispute; see part 1 here

When it comes to attention during presidential elections, Iowa is no stranger to hosting members of the press—usually in February, during its caucus. With all that has happened in 2020, the Iowa caucus may feel like it occurred eons ago, but the state is garnering attention later on, for more reasons than one. Along with having the potential to be a swing-state this year, Iowa has been at the center of a legal battle between Republicans and Democrats over absentee ballot applications. Despite the ongoing pandemic causing an increase in absentee ballot requests, the Iowa legislature passed into law an appropriations bill (HF 2643) that included new rules for how county auditors handle absentee ballot applications, which cannot be requested online through the Secretary of State’s website. This bill created its own set of challenges.

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The Prepopulated Paper Chase: Joel Miller’s Battle Over Absentee Ballot Request Forms

By Zee Huff

This is part I on coverage of Iowa’s absentee ballot application dispute; see part 2 here.

Imagine: You’re the auditor for Linn County, Iowa. It’s a warm summer morning. After a June primary which saw record turnout— and a surge in absentee voting — you’re trying to figure out how best to serve the citizens of your county. Drop boxes outside your office and the Public Services Building were a hit, with citizens voting up until 9 p.m. on Election Day. There are ways to help your constituents, and you’ll find them.

Your name is Joel Miller, and you’re about to have a hell of a summer.

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Idealism vs. Realism: Alternative Paths to Redistricting Reform in an Anticompetitive World

By: Ben Williams

In my previous post for this blog, I compared the competitiveness of congressional races in various states which have enacted redistricting reform to one another—and to the nation as a whole—to discover if Iowa’s acclaimed redistricting reform lives up to the hype surrounding it. Since that post, the 2016 electoral map has changed significantly: several news outlets, such as poll aggregator RealClearPolitics, liberal news outlet Vox, and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight are all suggested that—while unlikely—there was  at least a conceivable possibility that the Republican Party could lose the House of Representatives. The fact that the House would only be in play in a Democratic wave election speaks volumes about how successful the Republicans’ REDMAP project was in 2011. But this is a blog about election law, not politics.  The 2016 House races brought up several important questions: (1) Were House races truly competitive this year? (2) How did the states which have enacted redistricting reform compare to the national average? And (3) Which method of redistricting reform should reform advocates look to emulate in the non-reformed states?

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Iowa’s Redistricting Reform “Miracle”: Do the Outcomes Live Up to the Hype?

By: Benjamin Williams

When average Americans think of Iowa, they likely picture pastoral scenes apropos for a Norman Rockwell painting. What they may not realize is that sleepy Iowa is an election law trailblazer, with what some consider to be the most ambitions—and most successful—redistricting reform law on the books in the United States today. Iowa’s reform charges the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) with redrawing the maps in the State after each census. The LSA looks to traditional redistricting criteria like compactness and contiguity, but it is also banned from looking at several categories of so-called “political data,” including (1) voter registration statistics, (2) election results, and (3) the addresses of incumbent legislators. The legislature then receives the maps and has the right to approve or reject them via an up-or-down vote. Since the reapportionment following the 1980 Census, no LSA plan has ever reached a third vote in either the state House or Senate. The races in these politics-blind districts create competition, with the Boston Globe describing them as some of the “country’s hardest fought races.”

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Crafting Competitive Criteria: The Institution is Critical

By: Benjamin Williams

With the rapid increase in political polarization in recent years, momentum is building in several states to dramatically alter the redistricting process after the 2020 Census. True to the idea of the states being laboratories of democracy, there have been state constitutional amendments in Florida, partisan gerrymandering challenges in Wisconsin, Maryland, and North Carolina, redistricting criteria bills in Virginia, as well as a myriad of racial gerrymandering challenges. But the new idea—based on a blend of Iowa-style and Florida-style redistricting—is to create stringent criteria for legislatures to follow. That idea is simple enough: if the redistricting body (legislature, independent redistricting commission, college students, etc.) is forced to follow strict criteria when redistricting, the result will be “better” districts that aren’t ugly and are more competitive. But does the data actually bear this out?

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Redefining unconstitutional: Varnum justices continue to be targets in Iowa

by Patrick Genova

What do you do when you don’t like the ruling of the Supreme Court? In Iowa the answer is easy: get a new Supreme Court. Iowa’s system of judge retention elections makes it unique. Judges are appointed by a council, and at the end of an eight year term the public votes on whether a justice should be retained or let go. Until recently, judges didn’t have to campaign hard for retention; in fact, from 1962 to 2010 every justice was retained. There are no challengers in these judicial elections, the public simply votes for or against retention. In 2010 the system was shaken when three justices, including Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, were voted out of office. Continue reading

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Validates Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission’s Makeup

by Nick Mueller

On April 9, 2012 the Eighth Circuit dismissed a case brought by four Iowa voters challenging the constitutionality of the process for the selection of members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission, the commission that selects candidates for the Governor to nominate to the Iowa Supreme Court.  The issue in contention was that seven of the commission’s 15 members are required to be Iowa attorneys and that these attorneys are voted on not by the general public but by members of the Iowa bar.  The voters bringing the suit claimed that allowing only attorneys to vote, as opposed to the general public, violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

In deciding this case the court made a number of important legal findings.  It found that the commission served a “special and limited purpose” as opposed to performing “general governmental functions” such as taxing or issuing bonds.  It also found that, while the decisions of these members will affect all Iowans, they particularly affect attorneys in unique and amplified ways.  Having made these two findings they deem this election a “special interest election,” and under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, participation in such elections are reviewed with a lower level of scrutiny.  Instead of invoking the familiar “one person, one vote” standard, they ruled that as long as the selection process for commission members had a rational relationship to a legitimate government interest, then the process was constitutional. Continue reading

Mr. Colbert: or, How states might learn to love campaign finance reform

Its opponents deride its existence as a farce upon campaign finance law.  Its supporters suggest that it is the only way to set the system straight.  News of it has reached the public’s consciousness, rarified air for anything in the field of campaign finance. And we’re not even talking about Citizens United.

The Federal Election Commission’s recent decision permitting comedian Stephen Colbert to form his own Super PAC has successfully turned the media’s (and to a certain extent, the public’s) attention to the post-Citizens United world of political donations. Continue reading

A Vote for [Candidate] is a Vote for Slight Changes to Regulations!

The sheer number of elected officials is a unique factor of the American political system. Jobs that would be filled by civil servants or via appointment in other countries are chosen by the voters. There is something appealingly ‘American’ about such an arrangement; the idea that the democratic values of accountability and popular will should be extended to as many corners of our society as possible. That said, some of the things we know about Americans and elections should give us pause when it comes to filling technical and low profile jobs via the ballot.

It’s a well-known, but still unfortunate, truth that the Presidential elections every four years are high water marks when it comes to voter participation. When one starts going down the list—Congressional elections, Gubernatorial elections, State Legislative elections, and local elections—voter interest, attention, and participation wane at each step. Even in Presidential elections, where turnout is highest, often voters are only voting for many of the offices on the ballot because, well, if you’re already in the voting booth, why not? Continue reading

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