116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two longtime Iowa county auditors with ties to Linn County are vying to become the Democratic candidate to run against the current Republican secretary of state, Paul Pate, who has his own Linn County ties.
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker face each other in the June 7 Democratic primary.
Miller, 66, has been Linn County auditor since 2007 and is a former Robins mayor and city council member.
Van Lancker, 53, a Cedar Rapids native, has been Clinton County auditor since 2010.
The winner of the primary will face Pate, a former Cedar Rapids mayor, in the Nov. 8 general election.
Both of the Democrats say they are running to be advocates for Iowa voters, and both are displeased with voting laws the Iowa Legislature has passed in recent years.
“Over the last few years, there are election laws I have not been happy with, and they make it harder for Iowans to vote,” Van Lancker said. “The secretary of state should be a voter advocate and help their neighbors to vote and trust the outcome.”
In March, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 413 that shortened the early voting period from 29 to 20 days, added rules about how absentee ballots can be returned and limited county auditors’ authority within the election process.
Iowa Republicans, which control the Legislature, previously shortened the early voting period from 40 days to 29 days in 2017 with the Voter ID law.
‘Make voting easy again’
Miller said he was motivated to run after being sued by former President Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2020 election campaign. A judge sided with the Trump campaign, causing around 50,000 absentee ballot request forms that Miller had mailed to voters to be invalidated.
“I’m running to make voting easy again,” Miller said. “ … It was unfair to be sued over trying to do the right thing. I was making sure people participated in our elections and democracy. … The reason for the suit wasn’t necessarily because I didn’t follow the rules, but to cause confusion and suppress voters.”
If elected, he said, one of the first things he would do would lobby for automatic voter registration for 17-year-olds.
“That’s literally flipping a switch at the DOT,” Miller said. “Instead of opting in, you would have to opt out of being a registered voter, and that’s a no-brainer. That’s a simple one.”
Miller said he wants absentee request forms put online and for voters to have the ability to permanently request absentee ballot forms be mailed to them.
“You fill it out once and then everyone can plan elections better because you’ll already know how many forms you have to send out,” Miller said.
Van Lancker said he wants to focus on repairing the relationship between the secretary of state’s office and county auditors, “which has become pretty tedious lately, not very good.”
“That’s an important working relationship that has to be there to have great elections, and I look forward to patching that up,” he said.
The secretary of state’s office also is responsible for business and non-profit filings, and Van Lancker said he wants to do whatever he can to make it easier for businesses to stay in Iowa.
“Whether that’s streamlining any processes, papers, we will meet with these folks and find out how we can make it so they don’t waste time, what we can do totally electronically and get their businesses started in their communities,” he said.
Both Miller and Van Lancker believe it’s time for a county auditor to hold the statewide office again. A county auditor hasn’t been secretary of state since former Polk County Auditor Michael Mauro, a Democrat, was elected to the office in 2006.
“It should be a prerequisite for the secretary of state to have local election experience so when you’re in the golden dome of wisdom, you have an idea of the impact of laws being created there so you don’t come out and put more burdens on county auditors,” Miller said.
“I think there’s common sense things you learn as a county auditor that you could make the legislation better or you can keep it from being worse.”
Van Lancker agreed.
“County auditors know what an Election Day is like on the front lines,” he said. “We know how our polling places operate, and we know how our voters want to vote locally. That’s important to have when you’re the state commissioner of elections, and that’s gone away over the years.”
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Occupation: Linn County auditor
Education: Independence High School, Hawkeye Institute of Technology (now Hawkeye Community College)
ERIC VAN LANCKER
Occupation: Clinton County auditor; former news reporter and editor, former city worker
Education: Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, University of Northern Iowa