When I left town for a family trip on Friday, I figured the nastiest political feud I’d miss in Cedar Rapids would involve a Clinton and a Trump.
Turns out it was no match for Miller-Stutler-Vander Sanden.
In case you missed it, as I did, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller ordered police on Thursday to arrest his former Democratic primary rival, Joe Stutler of Marion, for “election misconduct in the second degree.”
Unbelievably, in this election cycle, it seems my jaw still is capable of dropping even further. Amazing.
Apparently, Stutler went to cast an in-person absentee ballot at the auditor’s office. But instead of using one of the voting booths, Stutler, according to witnesses, walked down the hallway and filled out his ballot near the men’s restroom. He also took a photo of his ballot. Stutler told The Gazette’s Mitchell Schmidt he had to use the restroom.
A violation of a state law, Miller charged, requiring voters to use a voting booth. Also, ballot “selfies” are a legal no-no.
But County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden disagreed.
“The rules are different for those casting absentee votes,” Vander Sanden wrote in a letter to Miller on Friday “Absentee ballots don’t have to be filled out in a voting booth and there is no prohibition against taking a photo of an absentee ballot.
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“In my 33 years with the Linn County Attorney’s Office, I have never seen an auditor try to invoke this code section to have a voter arrested. That you tried to apply it to have your primary opponent arrested under these circumstances is a deplorable abuse of the legal and political process,” Vander Sanden wrote.
Miller fired back, of course.
“I am not surprised that you have weaseled your way out of upholding my order to arrest a person you supported in the June 2016 primary election,” Miller wrote in his response, insisting Vander Sanden is giving voters permission to “do whatever you want” at polling places.
On Saturday, Miller wrote a post on his blog citing video evidence that Stutler did not, in fact, go to the restroom, complete with a play-by-play. Yep. I’m not making this up. You’ve heard of voting irregularities? What we have here is a voting absurdity.
Needless to say, there’s enough bad blood here to paint a Pollock. Miller and Stutler battled in a daggers-drawn primary last spring. Stutler had the backing of most county elected officials, including Vander Sanden. Miller had the support of voters, to the tune of a 45-point win. The rancor lingers. Miller and Vander Sanden also have clashed repeatedly in recent years.
But none of that excuses Miller’s actions in this case. Ordering the arrest of a county resident was a ridiculous and troubling overreaction. The auditor can cite all the code sections he wants, but this still smacks of political retribution. It’s one thing to skirmish with other elected officials, but unnecessarily wielding this sort of authority against a citizen is reckless.
If Miller had called attention to this as a way of imploring early voters to use voting booths, in the interest of keeping things orderly, fine. But “Lock him up?” A yuge mistake.
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