Federal Judge Dismisses Iowa Challenge to Private Funding for Election Expenses

A voters’ alliance failed to show how it was harmed by two Iowa counties receiving money from a private organization to offset the cost of running the Nov. 3, 2020 federal election during the Covid-19 pandemic.

(CN) — A federal judge in Iowa Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit claiming it was illegal for county election officials to receive money from outside organizations to pay for election expenses. The judge said the plaintiffs lacked standing.

Iowa’s Black Hawk and Scott Counties accepted grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a non-profit organization that offered “Covid-19 Response Grants” to local election jurisdictions that lacked sufficient funding to cover unforeseen costs of conducting an election safely during a pandemic.

Black Hawk County received $267,500 and Scott County received $286,870. Both counties signed agreements that required the counties to use the funds “exclusively for the public purpose of planning and operationalizing safe and secure election administration.”

The Iowa Voter Alliance, Todd Obadal, Michael C. Angelos, and Diane L. Holst argued in a complaint filed last October — ahead of the Nov. 3, 2020 election — that federal law requires private election assistance in federal elections be directed to states, not to counties or cities. 

The plaintiffs described the Center for Tech and Civic Life as a progressive and Democrat-leaning organization, to encourage voting in urban counties and cities to help progressive candidates.

The plaintiffs argued they were injured by the Center for Tech and Civic Life’s grants “because they are targeted to counties and cities by voting patterns” and that the plaintiffs wanted to protect the integrity of the Nov. 3 elections. 

“The government favoring a demographic group in elections is just as injurious to voters as the government disfavoring a demographic group,” the complaint stated.

Leonard Strand, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, said the plaintiffs may have real concerns about election integrity, but they lack standing to bring them in this case. He dismissed the case with prejudice.

“Because plaintiffs have raised only abstract and generalized grievances,” Strand wrote, “they have not shown injury in fact sufficient to have standing for claims under the equal protection clause or the Ninth Amendment.” The plaintiffs “failed to allege facts showing that the counties’ actions resulted in a concrete and particularized injury to their right to vote or to their rights under the Fourteenth and Ninth Amendments.”

While the plaintiffs’ grievances “may be valid and warranted, the doctrine of standing requires plaintiffs to seek a remedy through the political process, not through the federal courts,” Strand wrote.

In a statement to Courthouse News, Grant Veeder Black Hawk County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections, said, “the plaintiffs claimed that the CTCL grants targeted counties and cities by voter patterns, favoring one demographic group over another.  But by suing only Black Hawk and Scott Counties, which are largely urban in population, they ignored over 60 other Iowa counties that received CTCL grants, counties with overwhelmingly rural populations.”

Veeder added that all Iowa counties “had the opportunity to access the CTCL grants.  Black Hawk County used the money to pay for unexpected expenses related to the pandemic, expenses that otherwise would have to be paid for by Black Hawk County taxpayers.”

The Iowa Voter Alliance describes itself as an unincorporated association that seeks to ensure “public confidence in the integrity of Iowa’s elections, in election results and election systems, processes, procedures.” Plaintiff Obadal is an Iowa voter residing in Black Hawk County; plaintiffs Angelos and Holst are Iowa voters residing in Scott County.

Vincent Fahnlander of Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson of Minneapolis, identified in the complaint as special counsel to the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, represented the plaintiffs. Fahnlander did not respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News Wednesday evening.

Courthouse News was not able to reach either Black Hawk election officials Wednesday.

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