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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Running scared from a tall guy with a tricorn hat, Iowa Republicans are moving to limit competition on the ballot.
The controversial election reform bill that was rushed through the Iowa Legislature last week will, if signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, make it harder for citizens to vote but also harder for alternative candidates to get on the ballot. The legislation drastically increases the number of signatures required for third-party and no-party candidates.
Republicans who crafted the measure probably have one Iowa man in mind: Bryan Jack Holder, four-time candidate for U.S. House in Iowa's 3rd Congressional District.
Holder is a Libertarian from Pottawattamie County in western Iowa, a repeat candidate known for wearing an American Revolution-era hat and a star-spangled necktie. His 15,000 votes in 2020 were more than twice the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates, earning Holder 'spoiler” status. Democratic incumbent Cindy Axne won reelection against former U.S. Rep. David Young.
'The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances by running for public office, as all of you have done, is the foundation stone of our constitutional and democratic republic,” Holder said during an Iowa House hearing.
In Republicans' imagination, they're losing close races because Libertarian candidates are siphoning away what would otherwise be GOP votes. Some say Holder cost them the 3rd District election.
Instead of making an effort to win over voters, Republicans want to erect barriers to keep third-party candidates off the ballot.
Senate File 413 more than doubles the number of signatures required for alternative candidates to get on their candidacy petitions - from 1,500 up to 3,500 for presidential, gubernatorial and Senate candidates; more than 1,700 signatures for U.S. House candidates, up from 375.
The legislation also significantly increases the number of counties required to be represented among petition signers. Top-of-the-ballot candidates will be required to have at least 100 signatures from at least 19 counties, while U.S. House candidates will need at least 47 signatures from half the counties in the district.
The new county requirements may be unconstitutional under a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision, according to Ballot Access News. In Moore v. Ogilvie, the high court ruled that Illinois' signatures-per-county requirement was 'a rigid, arbitrary formula” that 'discriminates against the residents of the populous counties in the exercise of their political rights.”
It's not the first time in recent history that Republicans who control Iowa State government have stifled ballot access for third-party candidates. In 2019, the Legislature approved and Reynolds signed a law to move the third-party candidates' petition deadline up from August to March.
Iowa's 2019 law, dubbed the 'incumbent protection act” by critics, is the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit brought by Libertarian Party of Iowa members.
Under the legislation approved last week in the Iowa Legislature, third-party and no-party candidates will have the same condensed timeline for gathering petition signatures, but with much higher thresholds. The obvious intention is to protect vulnerable Republicans from competition.
The new election bill also tinkers with petition requirements for candidates for office in cities that have primaries or runoffs. The mark increases from 25 signatures to 100 in big cities.
Iowa has a long tradition of inclusive elections. For at least the last 10 general elections, there have not been fewer than eight presidential candidates on Iowa ballots. Back in 1992, there were a whopping 14 candidates on the ballot.
But Iowa Republicans don't trust voters to make the right choice. They are concocting a system to filter out would-be candidates who might pose a threat to their electoral success. It's a paranoid and insecure look for a political party whose power is only growing in Iowa.
Former President Donald Trump is openly toying with the idea of creating a new political party, which would take on both Democrats and Republicans who are insufficiently loyal to Trump.
During an interview on Iowa Public Radio, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann was asked about the prospect of a Trump third party. Kaufmann dismissed the notion.
'That's not going to happen. … You want Republicans and Democrats to hold hands and sing ‘We Are the World,' try introducing a third party and making that third party immediately relevant,” Kaufmann said.
The message to third parties is clear: You can't win because we won't let you.
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