First-time candidate Deidre DeJear highlights voter engagement history in run for secretary of state

Although she disagrees with the recent voter reform that will require voters to bring ID to the polls beginning in 2019, DeJear’s No. 1 priority is to encourage people of both parties to vote.


Nick Rohlman

Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Deidre DeJear speaks during the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Bondurant Iowa on Sunday, September 16, 2018. The event featured a variety of local and national democratic politicians who spoke on how Democrats can work together leading up to the midterm elections.

Sarah Watson, Politics Reporter

Democratic candidate Deidre DeJear hopes to engage voters with initiatives such as automatic voter registration in her run for Iowa’s chief commissioner of elections.

In the June primary, she became the first black candidate to earn a nomination by a major party for a statewide office.

The secretary of state’s office oversees Iowa elections and acts as a record-keeper for businesses. She faces incumbent Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican.

Born in Mississippi, the 32-year-old moved to Iowa and attended Drake University in 2004. Now, she owns a strategy and marketing service for small businesses, called Caleo Enterprise in Des Moines. DeJear and her husband, Marvin, reside in Des Moines with their two dogs, Macy and Maurice.

The first-time candidate said she mulled the decision to run for more than half a year before she declared she was running.

“I wanted to bring attention to a political candidate to lead in this role, but it turns out I ended up being the candidate, so I had to support me,” DeJear said.

If elected, DeJear said she would support implementing automatic voter registration. Her plan aims to automatically register voters when they receive or renew their driver’s licenses from the Department of Transportation.

The energetic speaker also hopes to better market elections by combining resources from Iowa’s 99 county auditors with organizations that can devote more resources to encourage people to vote. She listed organizations such as the political parties, the NAACP,  and the League of Women Voters.

“We can work together in a grassroots way to make it happen because the auditors’ job is not to get out the vote, so to say,” she said. “Their job is to administer the elections, and that’s a big job in and of itself.” 

RELATED: Secretary of State Paul Pate runs for re-election to refine initiatives 

She also supports directing education resources to college campuses to educate students — whether out of state or in state — on how they can vote.

DeJear believes the 2017 voting reform her opponent championed puts in place obstacles for voters. The new law shortened early voting periods from 40 days to 29 days before an election and will require voters to bring photo IDs starting in 2019.

More important than her opinion, she said, in the role of secretary of state, she would prioritize voter-education efforts to teach voters about the law’s requirements.

Parts of the law are currently on hold until a lawsuit from the League of United Latin American Citizens and Iowa State University student Taylor Blair is resolved. This November, voters will be asked to provide photo IDs, but they are not legally required to show one until 2019. Those without IDs will be able to sign an oath affirming they are who they say they are.

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll found that 69 percent of Iowans support providing IDs at the polls. DeJear said that on the campaign trail, she’s learned how to support those who disagree with her.

“My first step is to listen,” she said. “I already know what my arguments are, I already know what my positions are. I know what my beliefs are. If I can find common ground at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what a person’s political beliefs are to the office of secretary of state. What matters to [the office] is that they are participating in the elections. That’s our common ground.”

DeJear also has experience working for political and nonpartisan campaigns. In 2012, she helped President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and managed two successful campaigns for Des Moines School Board members.

On why voters should vote for her, DeJear said her first priority is that voters cast ballots.

“One, I just want people to vote. And when they cast their ballot I hope they consider me because I want their communities to be better,” DeJear said. “I want their voice to matter. I want their voice to count. By electing me, I’ll make that happen.” 

RELATED: Voter-ID law seen as unnecessary by some Iowa county auditors