Staff Columnist

Boulton debacle shows perils of voting too early

Troubling revelations about Des Moines and Iowa City politicians have come late this campaign season

Iowa Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Nate Boulton gives introductory remarks during a roundtable discussion at the Cedar Rapids Public Library downtown branch on Friday, July 14, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Nate Boulton gives introductory remarks during a roundtable discussion at the Cedar Rapids Public Library downtown branch on Friday, July 14, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

I published a column earlier this month explaining why I’m skeptical of early voting. When you cast your ballot before Election Day, you run the risk that important new information will come out before the race is over. As I wrote two weeks ago, “there will always be other controversies and developments we can’t foresee.”

Iowa Democrats were struck by just such a controversy this week. Gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Nate Boulton has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least three women, as originally reported in the Des Moines Register on Wednesday. One of those incidents took place in 2015, when Boulton was a candidate for the Iowa Senate seat he now holds.

That news came out 17 days into the 29-day early voting period ahead of the June 5 primary. More than 11,000 Democrats across the state had already cast their primary ballots, according to a tally from the Iowa Secretary of State. If recently released polling data is to be believed, a couple thousand of those voters filled in the little oval next to Boulton’s name.

If you’re a Democrat who believes the accusers and wants your Boulton ballot back, you’re out of luck. Those votes are sealed away and will be counted in his favor on Election Day. Even if someone drops out of a race, the candidacies are already certified and the ballots have already been printed.

Sadly, the Boulton fiasco is not an isolated incident. Politicians can be a sketchy bunch, and game-changers like this often come late in the campaign season.

As another example from earlier this month, local activists circulated a document online detailing Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry’s history of workplace sexual harassment. An administrative judge’s written decision from Iowa Workforce Development says Carberry, who is one of three candidates running for two seats in the Board of Supervisors primary, made inappropriate comments to subordinate employees, which led to his demotion and resignation.

That report was published in 2011, but never circulated widely or reported in the media before May 3 of this year. That would have fallen inside the 40-day early voting window which was authorized by state law until Republicans reduced it to 29 days in a law passed last year.

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Both Boulton and Carberry tried to shrug off the accusations against them. Carberry published a Facebook post claiming state government documents are “fake news” and calling his harassing comments “banter.” And Boulton released a statement to say his situation “in no way equates to the disgraceful actions taken by men across the country.”

You might dismiss my commentary as a petty political point from a right-wing columnist. But I also have written columns criticizing fellow Republicans President Donald Trump, former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and disgraced former Iowa Sen. Bill Dix for their well-documented indiscretions. And it’s worth noting I don’t have a dog in the Democrats’ gubernatorial and supervisors fights.

Voters have the right to decide whether they buy what the politicians are selling. But only if they haven’t cast their ballots yet.

l Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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