Abby Finkenauer will appear on the Democratic primary ballot, Supreme Court rules

By: - April 15, 2022 12:43 pm

Abby Finkenauer and her husband, Daniel Wasta, attended an Iowa Supreme Court hearing to determine whether Finkenauer may appear on the ballot in the June primary. (Pool photo by Kelsey Kremer/Des Moines Register)

U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer is eligible to appear on the Democratic primary ballot, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The Supreme Court overturned a district court decision to bar Finkenauer from the ballot due to three undated or incorrectly dated signatures. In the court’s majority opinion, the justices argued Iowa law sets out a very specific list of requirements for signatures — and dates are not mandatory.

“The legislature did not include missing or incorrect dates as one of the grounds for sustaining an objection to a petition,” the decision reads.

Finkenauer is a former U.S. representative from Iowa’s 1st District and one of three Democrats vying for Sen. Chuck Grassley’s seat in the Senate. She encouraged “all advocates for democracy” to celebrate Friday’s ruling.

“Today’s victory isn’t about my candidacy – it’s about justice for Iowans and democracy prevailing over meritless partisan attacks orchestrated by Washington Republicans and allies of Senator Grassley seeking to silence Iowans and undermine the democratic process,” Finkenauer said in a statement.

The dispute came down to just a few signatures out of more than 5,000. Two Republicans, Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett, challenged Finkenauer’s nominating petition over three signatures – one in Allamakee County and two in Cedar County – that were undated or had an incorrect date.

Candidates for the U.S. Senate are required to submit at least 3,500 signatures on their nominating petitions, including at least 100 signatures in at least 19 counties. Without those three signatures, Finkenauer fell below the county threshold, threatening her ability to appear on the June 7 primary ballot.

Finkenauer told reporters her campaign “did exceed the requirements,” despite the razor-thin margins that were challenged in the case. When asked why she didn’t gather more signatures as a buffer, Finkenauer said the challenge and subsequent court battles were born of partisan opposition to her campaign.

“What happened was that the Republicans spent thousands and thousands of dollars and countless hours trying everything they could, literally making up things, to try to kick us off the ballot,” Finkenauer said. “That is what happened here. And it is scary and sad that this is something that could happen.”

Read more: Supreme Court hears arguments in Finkenauer ballot case

The Supreme Court cited last year’s major election law as the basis for their decision. The law adds a line to specify that the state should sustain only certain, specific objections to nominating petitions: signatures don’t count if the signature or address is incomplete, or if a signer provides a post office box instead of a home address. The law does not say signatures need to be dated.

“Statutory interpretation is not like proving math theorems, and it is sometimes difficult to come up with a neat answer that is intellectually satisfying,” the decision reads. “In the end, we believe we must be guided by the legislature’s last word on the subject.”

Alan Ostergren, lawyer for Pellett and Schmett, tweeted Friday that the court’s decision reveals an issue in Iowa law.

“(The) Iowa legislature needs to reform this statute again and expressly list what has to be on a nomination petition and what the consequence is for failing to have that information present,” Ostergren wrote.

All seven of Iowa’s Supreme Court justices concurred in the opinion, but Justice Christopher McDonald and Justice Dana Oxley said they agreed for a different legal reason than stated in the majority opinion.

The Republican Party of Iowa acknowledged the ruling Friday afternoon. Party chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement Finkenauer would “never be a U.S. senator from Iowa” regardless of her presence the primary ballot.

“Iowans saw everything they needed to see in Finkenauer’s effort to get on the ballot,” Kaufmann said. “For someone who claims to have a strong campaign, she could barely reach the minimum requirement for petition signatures.”

Meanwhile, Finkenauer was already back on the virtual campaign trail, tweeting a link to her fundraising website shortly after the decision.

“The GOP’s attempts to undermine ballot access and our election process were pathetic and desperate. Today they lost,” Finkenauer wrote. “With a unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court, we’re still in this fight and we WILL beat Chuck Grassley in November.”

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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.