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Iowa judge blocks Senate candidate from appearing on Democratic primary ballot

Former Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer has been kicked off the June primary ballot for not having enough valid signatures on her nominating petition.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — An Iowa judge ruled that a leading Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate cannot appear on the June primary ballot because she did not have the legally required number of valid signatures on her nominating petition.

“The Court takes no joy in this conclusion,” Polk County District Judge Scott Beattie wrote in his ruling posted online at 10:45 p.m. Sunday. “This Court should not be in the position to make a difference in an election . . . . However, this Court’s job is to sit as a referee and apply the law without passion or prejudice. It is required to rule without consideration of the politics of the day.”

The Iowa Supreme Court will have the last word on the issue, however, as it agreed Monday to expedite the appeal and hear oral arguments on Wednesday afternoon.

Abby Finkenauer of Dubuque, Iowa, who served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives before being defeated in 2020, is campaigning to run against incumbent Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican, in November. Two other Democrats are running in the primary. Recent polling showed Finkenauer was clearly leading the primary race.

Finkenauer’s nominating petition filed March 25 to appear on the primary ballot was challenged by two Iowa Republicans who argue Finkenauer’s petition fell below the legally required minimum of 100 signatures in two Iowa counties.

The State Objections Panel – consisting of the Iowa attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state – voted 2-1, with the secretary of state dissenting, that while three signatures on Finkenauer’s petition lacked a required date, the petition was in “substantial compliance” with the law.

In response, the Republican objectors Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett filed suit in state court, arguing the state statute setting the requirements for signatures on nominating petitions is clear that signers must include their home address, town and the date they signed the petition.

Beattie agreed, holding that state law does not provide for “substantial compliance,” nor can the date of signing be inferred from signatures on the lines above and below, as the Finkenauer campaign argued.

“The only logical interpretation of the statute, which gives it meaning, is that each signer must indicate the date they signed,” the judge wrote. “It does not say that the date may be inferred or extrapolated from the context. The plain and obvious meaning is that the signature should be accompanied by a date indicating when it was signed. Failure to include the date means the signature is not valid.”

In a statement Monday, Finkenauer called the decision a “misguided, midnight ruling” and “an outrageous and partisan gift to the Washington Republicans who orchestrated this meritless legal action.” She said her campaign submitted more than 5,000 signatures, 1,500 more required to qualify for the ballot.

“We are confident that we have met the requirements to be on the ballot," Finkenauer said.

Alan Ostergren, attorney for the Republican objectors to Finkenauer’s petition, said the decision is “a victory for the rule of law. Iowans expect candidates to follow state law and to follow the same rules as the hundreds of other candidates who successfully qualified to be on the ballot.”

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