Staff Columnist

Ballot challenges draw contrasting responses from Republicans, Democrats

After Democrat failed to qualify, some in her party tried to change the rules

Iowans saw two very different reactions to embattled candidate nomination petitions over the last two weeks.

When a well-connected political insider’s ballot status was in jeopardy, the establishment jumped at the chance to try to reinterpret the law. When some less politically beloved candidates were in question, they were swiftly left for dead.

It’s a frustrating reminder of the steps political elites will take to wrestle control of our democratic process away from the people of Iowa.

On one side we had Democrat U.S. House hopeful Theresa Greenfield, who revealed to the media last month she threw out her initial batch of petitions after she learned her campaign manager forged signatures. A petition blitz in the hours before the filing deadline failed to bring in the required number of signatures.

Despite falling short, a committee of Democrats in the 3rd Congressional District voted to put her on the primary ballot alongside three legitimate candidates, relying on a brand-new interpretation of an old Iowa law. A panel of state officials reviewing ballot challenges last week chose not to block her name from the ballot.

Later in the week, Attorney General Tom Miller issued a statement to advise Greenfield did not quality to be placed on the ballot. It was a needlessly drawn-out way to arrive at the correct conclusion.

On another side of the controversy are Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ron Corbett and Republican U.S. House hopeful Ginny Caligiuri, who were promptly told by the state review panel their insufficient signatures would keep them off the ballot.

While everyone agrees Greenfield did not collect the requisite signatures, Corbett and Caligiuri at least made reasonable, if failing, arguments for why their petitions were sufficient. Even still, neither the media nor the partisan infrastructure came forth to defend Corbett’s or Caligiuri’s right to face the voters.

I have little sympathy for ousted candidates or their staffers, even though I would have enjoyed seeing competitive Republican primaries in both the gubernatorial and 2nd Congressional District races. Failing to meet the basic ballot requirements is a sure sign their campaigns were doomed to be ineffective anyhow.

I understand better than most how frustratingly close the campaigns were to reaching their bench marks. I gathered petition hundreds of signatures in my days as a political operative. It’s not fun, but those are the rules everyone plays by.

To borrow the Corbett campaign’s football playbook motif for a moment, it’s wrong to move the goal posts after the final whistle blows on primary filings.

What frustrates me is how Greenfield — who was the best-funded Democrat in her race, and said to be the top pick among Washington, D.C. insiders — somehow managed to turn her campaign’s attempted ballot fraud into a positive news story, clinging to a path to the nomination for more than a week after she should have been written off.

Any of the candidates facing challenges could blame their misfortune on their staff and volunteers, but that defense instills little confidence about their ability to serve the people of Iowa. If elected, they would be overseeing even larger staffs, carrying out much more important work than gathering signatures.

Imagine if one of our Republican politicians confessed a top staffer plotted to commit fraud, but she or he uncovered it hours before it would be carried out. I doubt Iowa Democrats would be so sympathetic. Instead, they rightfully would accuse that leader of bad hiring and negligent oversight.

So, future candidates, take note — meet the basic requirements of candidacy, but also spend plenty of time ingratiating yourself to the party establishment. Both will come in handy.

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