Staff Editorial

Iowa ballot proposal mimics gerrymandering, curbs local control

Bill is yet another attempted power grab by GOP

A four-year-old girl stands with her parents as they complete their 2012 election ballots in Vinton. Her younger brother rests in a stroller. A proposal before the Iowa Legislature this year would use past county election results to determine which candidates for partisan offices appear first on a ballot. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A four-year-old girl stands with her parents as they complete their 2012 election ballots in Vinton. Her younger brother rests in a stroller. A proposal before the Iowa Legislature this year would use past county election results to determine which candidates for partisan offices appear first on a ballot. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Last session Iowa’s Republican majority ended straight-party ticket voting, forcing Iowans to consider each contest individually. This year they have a plan to place their candidates and incumbents at the top of the ballot.

Senate File 2346 aims to limit county auditor discretion by mandating how candidate names for partisan offices appear on an election ballot. The statewide “fix” proposed by majority Iowa Republicans tips the scales in their own favor.

County auditors would be required to list candidates based on the county’s past voting behavior in gubernatorial races. So, if a Republican earned the most votes for governor in that county on a previous ballot, the next election ballot would give all Republican candidates top billing.

That means, if this bill is applied to the upcoming midterm elections, Republican candidates for partisan offices up and down the ballot would be listed first in all but Johnson County, the only county in 2014 not carried by former Gov. Terry Branstad.

It’s a flawed proposal on many levels.

First, a host of studies have documented “ballot order effect” — that the candidate listed first has an advantage on Election Day.

Second, if signed into law, the bill would dampen competitiveness and further entrench partisanship. Neither of these outcomes would ease our hyperpartisan environment.

Additional and unnecessary barriers would be artificially constructed for third-party and independent candidates. The two dominant political parties, in contrast, would benefit from the self-fulfilling prophecy of dependence on past action. Blue counties become more blue; red counties more red.

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In heavily Democratic Johnson County, for instance, the artificial barrier becomes one more reason for local Republicans to not field candidates. If past voting behavior dictates the future, what point would there be?

Supportive lawmakers say local discretion is unfairly implemented, and their idea provides balance by hinging on the will of voters. Perhaps they’ve forgotten that local will also determines who serves as county auditor.

If those holding an overwhelming majority of statewide and Congressional offices feel so strongly about usurping local control, several less-partisan options exist. Lawmakers could call for rotating orders, or multiple printed versions that offer varied candidate orders.

The current proposal, however, places too much thumb on the scale.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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