116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Two Iowa Republicans are asking a district judge to overturn a state panel’s ruling to accept Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer’s nominating paperwork, a move that would result in Finkenauer being taken off the ballot for the 2022 elections.
The petition for judicial review was filed Thursday in Polk County District Court.
Finkenauer is one of three Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to face longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who also faces a primary challenge.
Iowa’s primary election is June 7, and the general election is Nov. 8.
The State Objection Panel — comprised of the secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor — this week considered objections to dozens of signatures collected by the Finkenauer campaign on her nominating petitions.
As a candidate for U.S. Senate, Finkenauer was required by state law to acquire at least 3,500 signatures, including at least 100 signatures each in at least 19 counties.
After the panel’s review, Finkenauer finished with exactly 19 qualifying counties, including one with exactly 100 signatures and two more with 101 each.
The panel of Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller, and Democratic Auditor Rob Sand, voted 2-1 to deny the objection, clearing the way for Finkenauer to remain on the ballot. The Democrats, Miller and Sand, voted to deny the objection while Republican Pate voted to approve it.
The panel members disagreed about whether some signatures that contained incorrect or illegible dates should be allowed. Miller and Sand argued the information on the forms was sufficient, while Pate argued the signatures were not completed to the letter of the law and should have been disqualified.
The objections to the Finkenauer campaign’s signatures were brought by Kim Schmett, a former Republican candidate for Congress and former leader of the Polk County Republicans, and Leanne Pellett, co-chair of the Cass County Republicans.
The Finkenauer campaign issued a statement Thursday suggesting Republicans are presenting the legal challenge to remove Finkenauer from the ballot because they fear she would defeat Grassley in the November election.
“This ridiculous challenge has no substance and has already been rejected by a panel of the state’s top officials,” Finkenauer campaign manager Amanda Sands said in a statement.
“But the GOP is so insecure about Grassley’s re-election and terrified of a matchup with Abby that they are going to court in another desperate attempt to knock off their competition.”
Alan Ostergren, a Des Moines lawyer who is active in conservative political and legal causes, is representing Schmett and Pellett in the request for judicial review of the state panel’s ruling.
The filing asks the district court to reverse the state panel’s decision or require the panel to reconsider the objections to Finkenauer’s signatures without Miller and Sand participating.
Ostergren argued before the panel that Miller and Sand should recuse themselves for voting on Finkenauer’s petitions and argues the same in the legal filing.
Ostergren argues Miller should have recused himself because the panel considered some of the same issues that were raised when his campaign’s signatures were challenged, and that Sand should have recused himself because Ostergren previously sued Sand and the auditor’s office and because, in a statement, Sand’s spokesperson called Ostergren a “political hack.”
Ostergren also argues Miller and Sand incorrectly ruled on the objections to the Finkenauer campaign’s signatures and that their rulings were “based on an erroneous interpretation of law that had not been clearly vested by a provision of law in the panel.”
The filing asks for an expedited review, given the state’s need to begin printing ballots for the June 7 primary election.
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