Staff Editorial

Voters dodged confusion to make their voices heard

"I voted" stickers at a Cedar Rapids polling location. Voters throughout Eastern Iowa turned out to cast a ballot in the 2018 primary. (The Gazette)

Tuesday was a bad time for sloppy campaign communications.

Some voters received text messages on Monday and Tuesday about the Democratic primary with incorrect or incomplete information about voters’ polling locations. The messages did not disclose who was sending, who paid for them or how recipients could opt out of future messages.

While officials at the Iowa Secretary of State’s office said Tuesday they believed the messages were “erroneous” and “not malicious,” they still stirred confusion among voters and campaign organizers in the final hours of contentious primary campaigns.

It surely didn’t help instill confidence while Iowa is rolling out a new voter ID law approved last year by the Legislature, leaving some Iowans unsure about what they needed to bring to their polling stations.

Luckily, that confusion did not appear to suppress turnout Tuesday. More than 279,000 Iowans cast ballots on or before Tuesday, including record-breaking turnout among Democrats at more than 175,000.

High turnout is a sign voters are engaged. They deserve a general election campaign focused on the big issues they care about, not personalities and nonsense.

Democrat U.S. House candidate Abby Finkenauer’s campaign said Wednesday the misleading text messages originated with them and they worked to correct the errors. Yet even before this week’s mishap, thousands of voters had been receiving unsolicited campaign messages for the past few months leading up to the primary.

A huge number of political software and consulting services now are available, enabling even meagerly funded campaigns to reach many thousands of voters in a short period of time.

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State and federal rules protect the use of personal information by outside groups, including political campaigns. Yet in some cases, those laws have not kept up with rapidly changing communications technology. Perhaps even more concerning, when campaigns do break those rules, citizens have little recourse to report the bad behavior.

At best, the deluge of campaign messages are a nuisance. At worst, they serve to overwhelm voters and even dissuade them from getting involved in the process. We are glad to see the latter did not come to fruition this time.

This week is only the beginning of the 2018 campaign season in Iowa. State and county officials still are counting absentee ballots and finalizing vote tallies.

At least one crucial race, the Republican contest for secretary of agriculture, appears set for a party convention showdown, which will take place June 16. And additional candidates for other races still could be nominated by petition or at party conventions.

Despite several hiccups, Iowans sent a clear message this week they are committed to the democratic process and want to see substantive campaigns between now and November. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. We will see whether our politicians can rise to the challenge.

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

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