Staff Editorial

Iowa law blocks ballot access

The Gazette

The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines.
The Gazette The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines.

Yet again, Iowans can blame shortsighted lawmakers for an embarrassing and avoidable lawsuit against the state government.

The Libertarian Party of Iowa filed a federal lawsuit last week against the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, arguing against a new Iowa law that will make it more difficult for minor party candidates to get their names on the ballot.

The new requirements are part of a broader election reform package approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed this year by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Under the law, candidate running with unofficial parties will have to file candidacy petitions in March preceding an election, striking the previous August deadline.

Proponents said that change was meant to establish uniformity with the major parties, which file their candidacies in March. That doesn’t stand to reason, however, because the March deadline is for primary elections, which minor parties do not participate in.

Third-party organizers call it the “incumbent protection act.” They offer a convincing argument that lawmakers changed the rules to stave off challengers who might “spoil” close elections.

“It handicaps minor parties from reacting to later breaking changes in the political landscape, including later emerging major party candidacies,” Libertarian Party attorney Jules Ofenbakh wrote in a complaint filed with the United States District Court in Des Moines.

The party and one named plaintiff, 2018 gubernatorial candidate Jake Porter, say the new filing procedure violates their rights under the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They’re asking the court to declare the deadline unenforceable.

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Imposing unworkable filing deadlines is only one strategy the political establishment uses to restrict participation from third-party and no-party candidates. In many cases, courts push back against such political protectionism.

The closest analogy in U.S. Supreme Court literature is Anderson v. Celebrezze, a 1983 case where Ohio’s March filing deadline for independent presidential candidates was thrown out on First Amendment grounds.

Members in the Green Party and Libertarian Party cited that case when they cautioned Iowa legislators against changing the deadline during this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers refused to listen, and now the state faces a federal lawsuit.

Maybe you’re sensing a trend here. Several times in recent history, Iowa Republicans went forth with ill-conceived policies, only to be rebuffed in part or in whole by the courts. The so-called fetal heartbeat bill and an overbearing “ag gag” law are two recent examples.

It is difficult for Iowans to consider these facts and conclude Republican leaders are legislating in good faith. Instead, they have contorted the process to fit their own political interests, never mind the Constitution.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

Clarification: A previous version of this editorial called House File 692 a “GOP law.” It was passed unanimously by Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa Legislature, but it was managed on the floor by Republican lawmakers. A separate bill to impose early filing deadlines on minor parties also was introduced by a Republican lawmaker.

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