Government

Linn County auditor refuses to discuss sample ballot issue at Board of Supervisors meeting

Joel Miller says opponent has turned matter into political 'witch hunt'

Cedar Rapids residents vote early at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, October 14, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids residents vote early at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, October 14, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Auditor Joel Miller has refused a request by the Linn County Board of Supervisors for a debriefing on sample ballots that have confused nearly 800 residents.

In emails obtained by The Gazette, Miller on Tuesday notified the board that he would not speak about the sample ballots during the board’s Wednesday meeting. The meeting agenda includes an item to discuss the sample ballot mailers, which were sent out late last month to the county’s 90,500 households.

“I have no intention of attending or allowing any member of my staff to attend (Wednesday’s meeting),” Miller said in the email. “If the board votes to request a report from my office, then I will comply with the law. To date, the board has not voted to request a report.”

Board Chair John Harris said Monday the board would request a debriefing from Miller.

In the email, Miller cited a section of Iowa Code that prohibits electioneering — speaking positively or negatively about a candidate on the ballot — within 300 feet of any polling place. The meeting is scheduled to be held at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center, the same building as the Auditor’s Office and early voting polls.

Miller cited comments made by Supervisor Stacey Walker at a board meeting Tuesday — and comments at an Oct. 16 meeting — as reason for his refusal to discuss the matter at the following day’s meeting.

“I have no doubt (Wednesday’s discussion) will turn into political theater, i.e., electioneering,” Miller said in the email.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Walker spoke briefly about an NAACP forum scheduled later that evening that he planned to attend. He noted that his opponent in for the District 1 seat, fellow Supervisor James Houser, would not be attending.

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In a subsequent email, Miller — also citing Iowa rules on electioneering — said Tuesday’s NAACP forum, originally planned to take place at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, had been relocated to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In a reply to Miller’s email, Walker said relocating a forum less than an hour before it was scheduled was “simply ridiculous.”

“You contact the NAACP — a nonpartisan organization — 20 minutes before their long-publicized forum, where all candidates were invited, and tell them they cannot host a forum in a closed off auditorium, which is clearly more than 300 feet away from any voting apparatus, forcing this organization to move outside in the cold fall weather because in your infinite wisdom objective knowledge, you define a forum to be a prohibited activity,” Walker said in the email.

During the Oct. 16 meeting, Miller and members of his staff fielded questions and provided updates on a number of issues, including the sample ballots.

Supervisor Ben Rogers, who is facing Miller in the Nov. 6 election for the county’s District 2 seat, asked questions relating to the sample ballots — noting his concern that some residents have filled them out thinking they had cast valid votes.

The sample ballots were mailed last month to residents with the intention of educating voters and boosting absentee ballot requests ahead of the Nov. 6 election. Each mailer also included an absentee ballot request form, a return envelope and information explaining the sample ballots.

But officials have said the word “sample,” which was printed in large capital letters across each sample ballot, became faded during scanning and printing, making it difficult for some recipients to see.

Roughly 800 individuals filled out and returned the sample ballots. Of those, more than 60 residents did not include return addresses and cannot be reached by the auditor’s office.

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Miller has said he believes some of the questions and comments he’s received regarding the sample ballots — including those from Rogers — are politically motivated.

“You have single-handedly politicized this issue among your peers, and you are my opponent. I have no further time for your witch hunt,” Miller said in a Tuesday email to Rogers.

In a Tuesday email to Miller, Rogers said his questions are regarding public records and fall within his capacity as a county supervisor.

“This issue has nothing to do with any of us on the ballot and has everything to do with the more than 800 people (and counting) who mistakenly believed they voted and are still eligible to participate fully in the voting process,” he said in the email.

Others also have sounded off on the ballots, including the county’s three major party leaders — Linn County Democrats Chair Bret Nilles, Linn County GOP Chair Justin Wasson and Linn County Libertarian Party Chair Matthew Cannon. The three chairs noted “extreme concern” over the sample ballots and Miller’s response.

The chairs — and Secretary of State Paul Pate in a separate email — called on Miller to do more to reach residents who filled out and returned completed sample ballots.

Miller said Monday he does not plan on sending another letter to address the confusion caused by sample ballots, as doing so would just create more confusion during the election.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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