Elections

Ballot charges sought by Auditor Miller not likely

County attorney sees 'abuse of process' in Miller wanting opponent arrested

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Attorney said Friday he does not anticipate criminal charges against Joe Stutler, despite County Auditor Joel Miller’s request that his former campaign rival be arrested.

County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said he does not believe Stutler violated Iowa Code when he removed an absentee ballot Thursday from a polling place, as Miller alleged.

In addition, Vander Sanden expressed concern over the auditor’s request to have Stutler — who lost to Miller in the June Democratic primary — arrested over it.

“I can’t see that Joe Stutler committed a violation of any nature, technical or otherwise,” said Vander Sanden, also a Democrat. “At this point, it’s my legal opinion that the Linn County Auditor is acting beyond the scope and authority of the law. ... To have your political opponent arrested under color of law for a technical violation that you did not witness strikes me as an abuse of process.”

Vander Sanden, who said he hasn’t seen a situation like this in his 33 years with the Linn County Attorney’s Office, said he plans to investigate further.

On Thursday, Miller issued an “order” to police to arrest Stutler, saying he had written statements about an incident earlier that day at the Linn County Auditor’s Office polling place.

Three precinct workers indicate in the statements that Stutler went through the normal process to receive his absentee ballot, but took it away from the polling boxes for early voting and began filling it out next to the men’s restroom. Stutler also took a cellphone photo of his ballot, statements show.

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Miller asserted the actions constituted “Election Misconduct in the Second Degree,” an aggravated misdemeanor.

“He knew it was inappropriate and against the law to be doing what he did and yet he flagrantly came and just did it — I think to just test us or test the system, and this is not a year for people to be testing the system,” Miller said.

However, Stutler, who said he left the polling place to use the restroom, said he hadn’t done anything wrong. He has not been arrested.

“I don’t think I’ve violated any laws,” he said in an interview Friday.

Vander Sanden said Miller erred in his analysis of Iowa Code. He described a precinct official’s authority to have someone arrested as a “last resort” to restore order if a precinct becomes unruly. And the rule applies to Election Day, not to absentee ballots, Vander Sanden said.

He questioned why Miller issued such an order even though he had not seen the incident.

“I’m also looking at the actions that were taken by Auditor Miller in drafting what he purports to be a legal order that directs a peace officer to arrest a political opponent,” he said.

Miller argued that Vander Sanden — who had made a contribution to Stutler’s campaign — should refer the case to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office instead.

Miller and Stutler have a thorny past. Both traded barbs — including questioning each other’s military records — before the primary.

Miller said this had nothing to do with that.

“I asked myself before I did this, ‘Would I do the same thing if it was anybody else?’ And the answer has to be yes,” Miller said. “I have a duty to report these things, what happens to it after I order the arrest of someone is up to law enforcement.”

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