Staff Columnist

Iowa's proposed 'incumbent protection act' halted for now

Libertarian Party and Green Party organizers slammed proposed rules

Activists listen to a presentation about campaign planning  during the Libertarian Party of Iowa state convention on Saturday, March 30 in Cedar Rapids.
Activists listen to a presentation about campaign planning during the Libertarian Party of Iowa state convention on Saturday, March 30 in Cedar Rapids.

Members of Iowa’s alternative political organizations are breathing a sigh of relief as legislative proposals to restrict their participation in elections have fallen out of favor in the Iowa Legislature.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate introduced a bill this year to make wide-ranging changes to Iowa’s election rules. Organizers for no-party and third-party campaigns said the bill would unfairly advantage candidates from the two major parties.

Senate leaders do not plan to advance Senate File 575, the Des Moines Register reported last week.

Leaders of the Libertarian Party encouraged their members to lobby lawmakers against the bill, which they mockingly dubbed the “incumbent protection act.”

“This limits ballot access, not just for Libertarian but non-establishment candidates of any party. It puts up barriers that would chill participation, and really chill the amount of choice Iowa voters have,” state party chairman Joseph Howe told me last week at the party’s convention in Cedar Rapids.

At nearly 60 pages, the proposal calls for sweeping changes to election procedures, which critics said would make it more difficult for Iowans to vote. Among the most controversial reforms are shortening Election Day voting by an hour and barring satellite polling stations in state-owned buildings, including on public university campuses.

Third-party organizers were particularly concerned with provisions to increase signature requirements for candidates to be placed on the ballot and to drastically increase the cost of obtaining voter registration lists.

A couple other Republican-sponsored bills this year would restrict ballot access for third-party candidates. House File 139, a so-called “sore loser law,” would bar candidates who lose primaries from entering the general election as no-party or third-party candidates. House File 335 would move up the filing deadline for third-party candidates about five months.

In a rare moment of cross-partisan collaboration, leaders of the Libertarians and Greens, Iowa’s two most active non-party political organizations, issued a joint statement decrying the proposals.

Both those bills appear dead for the current session of the Iowa Legislature. Howe attributed the nixing of the proposals, in part, to the pressure he and his allies put on Republican lawmakers.

“We were told to call off the attack dogs, essentially,” Howe said.

For now, third parties are on the defensive and at the mercy of Republicans and Democrats, hoping to fend off proposed restrictions to ballot access. Their eventual goal, however, is to implement non-traditional election schemes, such as ranked choice voting.

“We are encouraging states to advocate for alternatives,” said John Phillips, a member of the Libertarian National Committee who serves on the party’s ballot access committee.

While the bad election bills have stalled for now, some provisions could reappear in other election reform bills still alive in the Iowa Legislature, and similar bills could be brought forth next session.

“We have to keep an eye out,” Howe said.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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