District court to decide if Finkenauer may appear on primary ballots

Judge heard preliminary arguments Wednesday in review of panel’s findings

By: - April 6, 2022 1:39 pm

A district court heard arguments April 6, 2022, on whether Abby Finkenauer qualified to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in 2022. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The fate of Abby Finkenauer’s Senate campaign depends on three signatures. Those three signatures, each with incorrect or missing dates, may cause Finkenauer’s removal from the Democratic primary ballot — pending a judicial review.

District Judge Scott Beattie heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge to Finkenauer’s candidacy. Republicans Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett allege a state panel wrongfully ruled that Finkenauer had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The case hinges on whether Iowa law requires every signature on a nomination petition to include the correct date alongside it.

Alan Ostergren, an attorney representing Schmett and Pellett, asked the court to reconsider the panel’s ruling, striking Finkenauer from the primary ballot. He noted the Secretary of State advises candidates to gather more than the recommended number of signatures in anticipation of challenges. 

“Just turn in more than the bare minimum and you’ll be fine,” Ostergren said. “The answer should not be, as it apparently was from this panel, to ignore what we need to to get this candidate on the ballot.”

Assistant Attorney General Matt Gannon said the panel followed precedent set in past election cycles to allow signatures that had incorrect or missing dates, so long as it was clear in context that the signer was an eligible elector and signed at the same time as other people on the form. Gannon pointed to one of the signatures in question, where the signer appeared to add their zip code, rather than the date of signing.

“That is, by any stretch of the imagination, nothing worse than a harmless error,” Gannon said. “A scrivener’s error on the part of the signer.”


Gary Dickey, an attorney representing Finkenauer’s campaign, argued Pellett and Schmett have no legal standing to raise the objection, as they are registered Republicans and therefore unable to participate in the June primary — unless they register as Democrats.

“The only rational, reasonable inference is that they’re seeking to reach across into another political party and seek mischief in the primary,” Dickey said. 

Beattie asked the parties to submit additional written arguments after Wednesday’s hearing. The court intends to rule on the case by April 10, allowing enough time for parties to appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court before the state begins to print and send out ballots.

What happened with the State Objection Panel? 

The three-member State Objection Panel met last week to determine whether several candidates received enough signatures to appear on the ballot in the June 7 primary election.

The panel considered the candidacy of incumbent Attorney General Tom Miller first. Miller barely squeaked by with enough signatures to remain on the ballot, as the panel of Secretary of State Paul Pate, State Auditor Rob Sand and Lieutenant Gov. Adam Gregg determined several signatures were not eligible. Dorm addresses without room numbers or signatures with wrong dates were deemed invalid.

After Miller’s hearing ended, he took his place on the State Objection Panel, replacing Gregg.

When it was time for the Finkenauer campaign to face the panel, Miller proposed a different interpretation of the law and allowed many signatures to stand that would not have qualified by the standards that Gregg, Sand and Pate set for Miller’s campaign.

Political candidates in Iowa must collect a certain number of signatures to appear on the ballot. For her Senate campaign, Finkenauer was required to collect 3,500 signatures, including at least 100 signatures from at least 19 counties. Finkenauer qualified by a razor-thin margin, with 100 signatures in Allamakee County and 101 in Muscatine County and Cedar County.

Miller said Finkenauer was a “very legitimate candidate” and should appear on the ballot.

“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.

Read more: State panel rules Finkenauer and Miller may remain on primary ballots

Have candidates been kicked off the ballot before?

If the court rules in favor of Schmett and Pellett, Finkenauer would not be the first Iowa candidate to get knocked off the primary ballot for lack of signatures. 

In 2018, then-3rd District candidate Theresa Greenfield withdrew her nomination petition because her campaign manager had falsified signatures. An 11th-hour effort to gather enough legitimate signatures failed.

Less than two weeks later, the Des Moines Register reported, Greenfield ended her campaign.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Corbett also lost his place on the primary ballot in 2018. Eight signatures were crossed off on the petition and declared invalid, knocking Corbett below the threshold.

Corbett sued to overturn the ruling, but a district judge upheld it. Corbett dropped out of the race.


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.