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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Democrat Abby Finkenauer is appealing what she calls an “outrageous and partisan decision” by an Iowa district court judge to throw her off the June 7 primary election ballot for a U.S. Senate seat.
“After careful review, I have decided to challenge this deeply partisan decision to the Iowa Supreme Court,” Finkenauer, a former member of the U.S. House, said in a statement Monday.
Finkenauer will ask the court to reverse a ruling issued Sunday night by Polk County District Court Judge Scott Beattie that she did not submit enough signatures on nomination petitions to qualify for the Democratic primary to determine the party’s U.S. Senate nominee in the November general election.
His decision overruled the State Objections Panel that rejected challenges to Finkenauer’s campaign raised by GOP activists. The panel decided Finkenauer had met the ballot requirement to acquire at least 3,500 signatures, including at least 100 signatures each in at least 19 counties. But only the Democrats on the panel — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and State Auditor Rob Sand — voted in Finkenauer’s favor, while Republican Iowa Secretary of State voted against her campaign.
Finkenauer called the judge’s decision “a massive gift to Washington Republicans … that ignores decades of precedent, interferes in the electoral process and makes a mockery of our democracy.”
“It’s clear now more than ever: Republicans are scared of the campaign we’re building,” she said. “They’ve gone to historic lengths to slow us down because they know Chuck Grassley is more vulnerable than ever, and that we can beat him in November.”
Finkenauer has been competing with retired Admiral Michael Franken of Sioux City and physician Glenn Hurst of Minden for the Democratic nomination. Grassley is expected to be the Republican nominee, but faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Jim Carlin of Sioux City.
Grassley's re-election is considered “solid” by the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, and “safe” by Crystal Ball.
Beattie, according to Finkenauer, “did the bidding of Chuck Grassley and his allies in Washington.” Grassley was not a party to the challenge brought by other GOP activists.
The state Supreme Court issued an order Monday that the case was being “expedited” but did not say when a ruling would be issued. It scheduled oral arguments for Wednesday.
The Finkenauer campaign hopes the court acts quickly because Pate’s office said Monday county auditors need a final decision by April 18 to have ballots printed to meet an April 23 deadline for sending overseas ballots. Early voting starts May 18.
After the Objections Panel approved Finkenauer’s nomination petitions, determining she had “substantially complied” with state law, Kim Schmett, a former Republican congressional candidate, and Leanne Pellett, co-chair of the Cass County Republicans, filed a number of objections. They asserted some signature lines were missing information, and as a result, Finkenauer did not have the mandatory 100 signatures from 19 counties.
Beattie said the panel’s interpretation of the law was incorrect.
“The court takes no joy in this conclusion,” he wrote. “This court should not be in the position to make a difference in an election, and Ms. Finkenauer and her supporters should have a chance to advance her candidacy. However, this Court’s job is to sit as a referee and apply the law without passion or prejudice. It is required to rule without consideration of the politics of the day.”
Beattie’s decision also is being appealed by Miller, according to his spokesman. Miller had discussed the ruling and challenging it with the other Objection Panel members, Pate and Sand.
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said Miller and Sand “should be ashamed of their hyper-partisan actions and have more respect for our election laws.” With the district judge’s decision, he said, “the rule of law has prevailed.”
This is not the first election-related case Beattie has ruled on. In 2018, he dismissed a challenge brought by Democrat Kayla Koether in her race for an Iowa House seat in Northeast Iowa.
When the ballots were counted that year, she trailed incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Bergan of Dorchester by nine votes. However 29 absentee ballots from Winneshiek County were not counted because they had not arrived in the county auditor’s office before the deadline. The Postal Service confirmed the ballots had been mailed on or before the deadline.
Koether wanted those ballots opened and counted. Beattie dismissed her case on jurisdictional grounds. He cited the Iowa Constitution, saying the legislative branch, not the judiciary, was the proper venue for determining contested elections.
The GOP-controlled Iowa House upheld Bergan’s win.
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