Flap in Iowa raises fears of politicized local election offices
This undated photo shows Scott County’s new auditor, Kerri Tompkins. (Quad-City Times via AP)
DES MOINES – It had been eight years since a Republican candidate even ran to challenge Democrat Roxanna Moritz as the top election official in Scott County, Iowa.
Running unopposed in 2016 and 2020, Moritz had become, during his four terms as an auditor, the top voter in votes in this swing-voting county along the Mississippi River, the third most populous in the state.
Moritz’s abrupt resignation last month came after months of tensions that escalated into personal attacks and threats of violence. His departure and partisan demarches since then are signs that an office long regarded as non-partisan is now a fair game in the political struggle for confidence in national elections.
“We took a lot of shit in my office, all of us,” Moritz said in an interview, describing angry, sometimes threatening, calls from the public accusing him of fixing the 2020 election. partisan bullying. ”
Republicans who control the Scott County Supervisory Board said politics played no role in their criticism of Moritz’s handing over of a county finance case last year, which led voters to ask for his resignation.
She is accused of falsifying the working hours of polling officers to justify paying them more before the June 2020 primaries, when the coronavirus pandemic made it difficult to recruit help. State Auditor, Democrat Rob Sand, is investigating.
But the problem escalated with a number of Scott County Republican voters upset with the nationwide presidential election result, even as Republican Donald Trump easily won Iowa over the Democrat Joe Biden in his candidacy for a second term.
Moritz said she and her team experienced a stream of verbal harassment via phone, email and social media, ranging from name-calling to physical threats before and after last year’s election.
“Someone said they were going to come down and set our building on fire,” she said. “It was three weeks before the elections. And we took it seriously.
The election administration, long seen as calm and non-partisan, is now controversial, given Trump’s persistent and false claims that widespread fraud cost him his re-election.
Trump and his allies, in their failed attempt to challenge his loss, have filed several lawsuits to slow down the official vote certification process. Trump praised two Republicans on a Detroit-area electoral council for temporarily blocking the county election results, in which Biden won by more than 2 to 1.
As part of their nationwide effort to nullify ballot access, lawmakers in Republican states lobbied legislation to impose fines or criminal penalties on election officials for breaking the rules. In Iowa, officials now face a fine of up to $ 10,000 for a “technical violation” of electoral rules under a new law.
This current reality has led election workers to resign or retire, or made this type of work unpleasant.
A Republican on the Michigan State Election Council was not reappointed by the party after voting to certify Biden’s victory. A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association said about a third of the state’s county election officials had left their posts in the past year and a half. Threats, heavy workloads and misinformation are some of the reasons.
Robert Brandon, president and CEO of the Washington-based Fair Elections Center, said it was essential that these positions remain as impartial as possible in order to preserve confidence in the elections.
“If we really had people motivated only by partisan politics during elections, then you would be concerned about the legitimacy of an individual election,” he said. “It would be a terrible turning point in this country to undermine what is the most important part of our democratic process.”
In Scott County, the GOP-controlled council has appointed a Republican who is a former Davenport councilor as the county’s new auditor. The board opted against a special election for the sake of cost and efficiency, said chairman Ken Beck.
“There was nothing political about it. A date is allowed by law, “he said.” I didn’t think it was worth having such a small percentage of the electorate. Is this a fair election? “
The party line’s decision drew a swift response from Democrats in Iowa. With the help of Democratic officials in Iowa and national groups, the party is trying to collect more than 10,000 signatures to allow for a special election.
The named Kerri Tompkins said her mission was not to advocate for election laws. “It’s a role that I don’t set policy,” she told the Quad-City Times last week. “My job is to obey the law.”
The political drama is only the latest to beset this small metropolitan county at the center of the post-2020 electoral storm.
Republican county president former state lawmaker Dave Millage was forced to resign in January after criticizing Trump’s actions related to the Jan.6 attack by then-president’s supporters on the US Capitol.
The county, which narrowly swung to Biden, is also part of the 2nd Congressional District, where Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks defeated Democrat Rita Hart by six votes. It was the closest race to American home in nearly 40 years.
In this October 30, 2020 file photo, Lenore Benton-Bey, with a walker, and her husband, Charles Benton-Bey, line up with others to vote early at the Eastern Avenue branch of the Davenport Public Library in Davenport, Iowa. (Geoff Mulvihill / AP)
This undated photo shows former Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz. The drama surrounding his sudden retirement from the post that oversees elections in one of Iowa’s most populous counties is worrying voting experts what that might mean for the future. (Gary Krambeck / Quad-City Times via AP)