State panel: Finkenauer and Miller may remain on primary ballots

Panel also dismisses challenges to Republican Statehouse campaigns

By: - March 29, 2022 3:50 pm

State Auditor Rob Sand, left, and Attorney General Tom Miller were two members of the State Objection Panel that met March 29, 2022. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Two statewide Democratic candidates and several Republican legislators will remain on primary election ballots after fending off challenges to their nomination paperwork on Tuesday.

Incumbent Attorney General Tom Miller and U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer faced the State Objection Panel on Tuesday to defend signatures on their nomination petitions. Every political candidate needs a certain number of signatures from Iowa residents to appear on the ballot.

The Secretary of State’s office plays a ministerial role in the process, said legal counsel Molly Widen, accepting the petitions unless they are obviously flawed. The state instead relies on the “citizen review process,” allowing individuals to comb through the signatures for errors.

Miller and Finkenauer were among several candidates who had challenges filed against their nominating petitions. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, Sen. Ken Rozenboom and Rep. Jeff Shipley also faced opposition.

The hours-long panel resulted in just one candidate who will no longer appear on the ballot: Kyle Kuehl, a Republican who planned to challenge Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa’s new 1st District. Kuehl did not attend the meeting or contest the challenge.

Miller remains on the ballot by two signatures

Incumbent Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, was the first candidate to face the panel on Tuesday. 

Former Republican Rep. Teresa Garman filed the objection, alleging that some signatures had the wrong dates or incomplete addresses. Many of the issues arose around the Iowa State University and Simpson College campuses, where students signed the petitions without dorm room numbers or with the address of the mail center, rather than their dorm.

The panel of Lieutenant Gov. Adam Gregg, Secretary of State Paul Pate and State Auditor Rob Sand sustained several of the objections, striking the signatures from the petitions. 

Miller needed at least 77 signatures in 18 counties to remain on the ballot. Miller filed a sufficient number of signatures in 21 counties. But the panel determined that in three counties, Miller fell below that threshold when the incorrect or incomplete signatures were removed.

Miller craned forward in his chair as Widen counted aloud the signatures for the final area: Story County. If the panel struck too many of signatures from that county, Miller would not be listed on the primary ballot.

Seven of the signatures were invalid, leaving Miller with just 78 valid signatures in the country — one above the minimum requirement.

Miller will remain on the ballot for the June Democratic primary.

“We followed the advice of getting extra (signatures),” Miller told reporters after the decision. “Admittedly, it was pretty close.”

Finkenauer able to retain many challenged signatures

After his hearing concluded, Miller took Gregg’s place on the panel. The reconfigured panel – now with two Democrats and a Republican – considered a challenge to Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer’s campaign.

Republicans Kim Schmett and Leanna Pellett filed the challenge, alleging that improper signatures in four counties would invalidate a requirement to have 100 signatures in at least 19 counties. Many of the arguments mirrored the challenges to Miller: incorrect or missing dates, lacking apartment numbers and duplicate signatures.

But the new panel voted to allow many of those signatures to stand – even though the same issues had made signatures invalid for Miller’s campaign. Finkenauer will appear on the Democratic primary ballot this year.

Miller said Finkenauer, who served in the U.S. House representing Iowa’s 1st District, was a “very legitimate candidate” and should not be barred from the ballot due to a few, isolated signature issues.

“Here around this table, we’re focusing on some very small set of signatures, and in my view, sort of playing ‘gotcha,’ when all these other things loom so much, so much larger,” Miller said.

Lawyer Alan Ostergren represented the challengers to Miller and Finkenauer. He criticized Tuesday’s panel and suggested there might be a legal review of the process.

“The basis for the review would be that different rules applied in the morning than were applied in the afternoon… Most of the time, a judge thinks that the rules should be consistently applied,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, also faced a challenge to some of his signatures. The panel of Miller, Sand and Pate denied most of the objections, allowing Shipley to retain enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

Whitver and Rozenboom wave off residency challenges

Both Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, and Whitver, R-Ankeny, were challenged for not living within the district where they filed to run. Senators must move into their district within 60 days before the general election.

The panel dismissed both challenges with little discussion, as the candidates have several more months to move before the deadline.

“Given that you have 60 days, given that it’s public knowledge that (Whitver) plans to move in the new district, there’s nothing improper about him not having an address to put down when he filed this paperwork,” Sand said.

Anthony LaBruna, candidate for Iowa Senate District 3, will also remain on the ballot despite a residency challenge.

Lynn Evans, LaBruna’s Republican opponent for the seat, alleged LaBruna had not lived in the district for long enough to run. LaBruna said he traveled frequently for work after he left his position as a staffer for former President Donald Trump, but that he maintained residency in Iowa.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.