Judge rejects Abby Finkenauer’s ballot nominating papers

A judge said a state panel should have rejected three signatures in the former congresswoman’s petition.


Larry Phan

Iowa Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer is interviewed by The Daily Iowan journalists in Iowa City on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022.

Caleb McCullough and Emily Delgado

Abby Finkenauer does not have enough valid signatures to appear on the Democratic primary ballot for the U.S. Senate in June, a judge ruled late Sunday night.

Finkenauer will likely appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court, but the ruling is a reversal of the decision made by a State Objections Panel in March — at that time, the panel upheld Finkenauer’s nominating petition and rejected objections to her place on the ballot.

​​Finkenauer blasted the decision as a partisan attack in a prepared statement on Monday morning. She said her campaign was exploring options to appeal the decision.

“Chuck Grassley’s allies in Washington are going to continue launching attack after attack on me – no matter how weak and partisan – because they know we have the momentum to win this race,” Finkenauer wrote. “We are not going to stop, we are going to continue to fight to build the coalition that can defeat Chuck Grassley in November.”

The court decision, based on a challenge brought by two Iowa Republicans, revolves around just a few signatures in two Iowa counties.

In order to appear on the ballot, U.S. Senate candidates in Iowa need at least 3,500 signatures, including at least 100 signatures from 19 counties. 

When she filed her papers, Finkenauer had six counties that had 105 signatures or less, and after some signatures were struck in a hearing over an objection, she was left with 100 signatures in Allamakee County and 101 in Cedar County.

Objectors argued three signatures in those counties should have been struck, which would have disqualified Finkenauer from the ballot. They also argued the panel did not rule the same way on similar signatures.

The panel, which met on March 29 to consider objections to seven candidates, was made up by Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller, State Auditor Rob Sand, Secretary of State Paul Pate. 

When a challenge to Miller’s own petition came up, he recused himself and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg filled in. During that challenge, the panel voted 2-1 — with Gregg and Pate, both Republicans, in the majority — to reject some signatures that were missing dates. When Miller joined the panel again to consider Finkenauer’s petition the panel then accepted similar signatures that were missing dates, with Miller and Sand, both Democrats, voting in the majority.

While the state panel argued, in Finkenauer’s case, that dates before and after a signature can be enough to validate a signature’s date, Judge Scott Beattie argued in his ruling that Iowa Code doesn’t allow that level of flexibility.

“The date of signing cannot come from another voter’s date of signing, nor can it come from the person who circulated the petition,” Beattie wrote.

Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett, The Republicans who brought the case argued dates of the signatures need to be clear, and the three signatures in question had obvious errors in the date. The court argued the signatures would have been valid even if they had some sort of sign of the date the signature was made, but none contained anything close to a date. 

One signature is missing the date entirely. In another signature, the signer wrote what appears to be a ZIP code. Another has a date that appears to read 6-6-27 or 6-6-22, neither of which would be the date the petition was signed. 

“The date of signature is a “requirement” that “shall be observed” and that “each signer shall add the signer’s…date of signing.”  Beattie wrote in his ruling.

While the judge ruled against Finkenauer, he discounted another claim from Schmett and Pellett that Miller and Sand should have recused themselves during Finkenauer’s hearings — Miller because there were similar signatures at question to his own petition, and Sand because he is engaged in a lawsuit with Alan R. Ostergren, a conservative lawyer representing the plaintiffs, and a member of Sand’s staff once called Ostergren a “political hack.” 

The court found the claim against Sand to be unfounded because there was no evidence Sand had a personal bias. In addition, Sand sided with Schemett and Pellet in some of their objections during the hearing. Miller was only required by law to recuse himself when the panel considered his petition, Beattie said.

Following the ruling, Attorney Alan R. Ostergren said the ruling was a victory as Iowans should see their candidates following the law that other candidates follow. 

“Anyone who has ever been involved in a political campaign knows that you can easily avoid problems by turning in more than the bare minimum number of signatures. Abby Finkenauer didn’t do this for some reason and got caught short,” Ostergren wrote in a prepared statement

Finkenauer will not have a way to get on the ballot unless the decision is overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court. That leaves two Democrats — former Navy Admiral Mike Franken and Glenn Hurst, a physician and member of the Minden City Council — in the race to challenge longtime Republican Chuck Grassley in November.

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