GOP-appointed judge overrules independent panel to block Democrat from crucial Senate race

Iowa Democrat knocked off of the primary Senate ballot by GOP judge over signature requirements

By Jon Skolnik

Published April 11, 2022 6:51PM (EDT)

U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-IA) introduces Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, on January 3, 2020 in Independence, Iowa. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-IA) introduces Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, on January 3, 2020 in Independence, Iowa. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

A Republican judge ruled on Sunday that Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat seeking to represent the state in the U.S. Senate, will no longer appear on Iowa's primary ballot, overruling a previous state decision that ensured her name would appear. 

Finkenauer called the ruling a "massive gift to Washington Republicans," saying that it "overrules both the Republican secretary of state's office and the bipartisan panel, ignores decades of precedent, interferes in the electoral process, and makes a mockery of our democracy."

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by two Republicans – Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett – who alleged that the Democratic candidate did not meet the signature quota required to qualify on the ballot, according to The Des Moines Register. 

Last month, a state committee found that she did meet this requirement, noting that similar issues have deferred to "substantial compliance" (i.e., when someone fails to fully complete a but has met the necessary criteria for it to be considered valid). 

But the two defendants argued that three of Finkenauer's signatures were completely invalid because the dates on them were incorrect. (One voter wrote in zip code instead of the date; the other left the date blank.) 

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Affirming Schmett and Pellett's suit, Polk County District Judge Scott Beattie wrote that the court takes "no joy in this conclusion" because it "should not be in the position to make a difference in an election."


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"However, this Court's job is to sit as a referee and apply the law without passion or prejudice," the judge added. "It is required to rule without consideration of the politics of the day."

Beattie, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, specifically argued that in Finkenauer's case, "substantial compliance" did not apply. 

"The statute requires 'the date of signing.' None of these signatories included even part of the date of the signature," the judge said. "If the individual had put '2/1' but omitted the year, the Court could agree that there was 'substantial compliance' with the date. However, none of the signatories did that here. They either put nothing in the blank for the date or put information that was not the date of the signature."

Finkenauer, 33, has pledged to challenge the ruling. "We are confident that we have met every requirement to be on the ballot," she said, "and we will not stop fighting back against this meritless attack that seeks to silence the voices of tens of thousands of Iowans."

A hearing before the state Supreme Court is scheduled for Wednesday.

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If put back on the ballot, Finkenauer, a former U.S. representative, would have a shot at replacing Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The primary, which is set for June 7, requires that all names on the ballot be confirmed April 15, meaning that the clock is ticking for her appeal


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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Abby Finkenauer Elections 2022 Gop Republicans Senate