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Judge bars former Rep. Abby Finkenauer from Democratic Senate primary ballot in Iowa

The judge found that the best-known Democrat in the race was three signatures short of the number she needed to appear on the primary ballot.
Image: Abby Finkenauer
Abby Finkenauer in an interview at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines in August 2019. Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, the biggest-name Democrat running for the Senate in Iowa, should not be allowed on the primary ballot because of problems with three signatures on her nominating petition, a state judge ruled.

Polk County District Judge Scott Beattie issued the ruling Sunday night after two Republicans argued that Finkenauer had fallen short of the number of signatures she needed to get on the primary ballot because three of the signers hadn't included the correct date on the petition.

Finkenauer, 33, once one of the youngest members of Congress, was hoping to challenge 88-year-old Republican Chuck Grassley in the fall. Grassley is running for an eighth term.

A state board had previously denied the Republicans' objections, finding that Finkenauer had "substantially complied" with the law. Beattie overruled the board, finding that state election law requires full compliance.

"This court should not be in the position to make a difference in an election, and Ms. Finkenauer and her supporters should have a chance to advance her candidacy. However, this court’s job is to sit as a referee and apply the law without passion or prejudice," Beattie wrote.

Finkenauer said Monday that her campaign had more than enough signatures and that she would "challenge this deeply partisan decision to the Iowa Supreme Court."

“We refuse to back down in the face of these partisan attacks. We are confident that we have met every requirement to be on the ballot, and we will not stop fighting back against this meritless attack that seeks to silence the voices of tens of thousands of Iowans,” she said in a statement.

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

Time isn’t on Finkenauer’s side for an appeal. The Des Moines Register reported that the Iowa secretary of state’s office has said it needs to know who’s on the ballot by Friday so it can be sent to military and overseas voters. The primary is scheduled for June 7.

Two other Democrats are running in the Senate primary, retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken and Dr. Glenn Hurst, a member of the Minden City Council.

Finkenauer said her campaign turned in over 5,000 signatures, more than the 3,500 needed. Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett, the Republicans who challenged her petition, argued she fell short of a different requirement, having 100 eligible signers from 19 counties.

They contended she missed the mark in two counties, Allamakee and Cedar. The petition included 100 signers from Allamakee and 101 from Cedar.

In one of the Allamakee signatures, the voter put a ZIP code instead of the date. In Cedar, one signer appeared to put their birthdate instead of the signature date, and another left the date blank. With those signatures disallowed, the total number of signers in each of the two counties fell to 99.

The State Objections Panel noted that it had used the "substantial compliance" standard for signatures for decades, but Beattie said the law is the law and doesn’t provide such an exception.

"The statute requires 'the date of signing.' None of these signatories included even part of the date of the signature," he wrote. "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 became the second-youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she won during the Democratic wave of 2018, but she was defeated two years later as Republicans rolled back many of Democrats’ gains.