Among the so-called “down-ballot” races for statewide office in 2014, the contest for Secretary of State has generated the most campaign activity. Both candidates are airing campaign ads and the scarce public polling data available on the race indicates it’s a tight race.
Republican Paul Pate, who is 56 years old, held the job for one term in the late 1990s and he is running to return to the post.
“It’s about public service,” Pate says. “Iowans are looking for someone who will step in and promote our elections process and get people involved again and I feel that’s something that needs to be done. It’s not finished and if someone doesn’t step up and do it, the job won’t get done.”
Brad Anderson, the Democratic candidate, is a 39-year-old political consultant who ran President Obama’s 2012 campaign in Iowa.
“I had never really considered running for public office before,” Anderson says. “…It wasn’t until 2012 that I grew frustrated with what I was seeing in the secretary of state’s office in terms of what I believe to be wasting taxpayer dollars trying to prove there’s this wave of cheating in Iowa that simply does not exist.”
The current secretary of state, Republican Matt Schultz, spent a quarter of a million dollars to pay a DCI agent to review voting records. The two-year investigation found 117 illegally cast votes. Charges were filed against 27 people, but there have been just six convictions. Pate says he supports voter integrity efforts.
“I think the issue that Iowans have spoke loudly on is they want photo ID,” Pate says. “Over 70 percent of Republicans and Democrats have said they want that, so protect the integrity I want to lead the charge to get that done.”
Anderson opposes a new law requiring photo ID. Anderson says Iowa’s current law allows poll workers to ask any prospective voter to show an ID.
“We need to find ways to get back to this bipartisan tradition here in Iowa of increasing access to the polls, making it as easy as possible for eligible voters to vote,” Anderson says, “but also strengthening the integrity and making sure we have zero election misconduct.”
The two candidates differ on the proper handling of absentee ballots, too. Pate is troubled that Iowa law allows a courier to pick up a completed absentee ballot from a voter and deliver that ballot to the county auditor. Pate wants to bar couriers from handling someone else’s ballot.
“I think in general terms, the public is having a real issue with the integrity of our election systems in general, not just in Iowa, but across the country,” Pate says, “and we need to move past that and assure them that we have the integrity and, to do that, we have to put some steps in place.”
Anderson says couriers help older voters who cannot make the trip to the county auditor’s office or to a mail box. Anderson would like to let Iowans register one-time and then vote with an absentee ballot in every election.
“I’m proposing a different approach and a better approach, once that says let’s make it easier to vote, hard to cheat,” Anderson says, “and also let’s modernize the small business filings to make it easier for small businesses to file.”
In addition to serving as the state’s commissioner of elections, Iowa’s secretary of state oversees an agency where businesses file the paperwork to incorporate or claim trademarks. Under current practice a would-be business owner must call the state office, give their credit card information over the phone to pay the registration fee and then wait for the paperwork to be delivered through the U.S. mail.
Two other candidates are on the ballot in the secretary of state’s race. Twenty-six-year-old Jack Porter is a Libertarian from Lineville who has worked for presidential candidates Bob Barr and Gary Johnson. Twenty-one-year-old Spencer Highland, a pre-med student from Ames who also is a member of the Iowa National Guard, is running under the banner of the New Independent Party.