Monday, August 11, 2014

Hawaii Election Has Iowa Precedent

Hawaii's Democratic Senate Primary was held Saturday and the result is unclear. Not just in the usual close election, possible recount way. No, in Hawaii there's still votes left to cast.

Two precincts on The Big Island had the election delayed because of storm damage to the polling places. And with appointee incumbent Brian Schatz holding a slim lead over challenger Colleen Hanabusa, voters in those two precincts will go to the polls (rather, they'll vote by mail) knowing that their votes will make the difference.

It's a scenario that was reduced to the absurd in the Kevin Costner movie Swing Vote, where one voter decides the presidency. But in real life?
Yes. Yes I can. And it was right here in Iowa, and you've probably heard of or even know the candidates. Step into the Wayback Machine and check the June 30, 1974 Des Moines Register:
TAMA. IA. — Within minutes of arriving in Tama. a visitor may be solicited by eager young campaign workers. "Would you like a Johnson bumper sticker?" they ask. Store fronts are plastered with campaign posters. Yard signs — green for Johnson, red for Rapp — are sprouting like July corn. Candidates have canvassed Tama and the surrounding country so thoroughly that by late last week they were beginning to run into voters they had already given their pitch to.

Blame Each Other

Both sides blame the other for starting it — a bitter rematch in miniature for the Democratic nomination for Congress in Iowa's Third District.

Voters in four Tama County precincts will decide the nominee for the entire 17- county congressional district in an unusual special election Tuesday. It all began when Stephen Rapp a 25-year-old state legislator, upset nationally prominent Nicholas Johnson in the regular June 4 primary election, apparently winning the nomination in a field of four candidates...
The Ames Tribune (July 1, 1974) picks up the trail from there:
Rapp, who was the apparent winner of the nomination after the June 4 primary, had his lead of 62 votes trimmed to only 10 after the results from three Tama County precincts were thrown out.

The special election was called when a suit was filed in federal court in Cedar Rapids on behalf of Indians on the Mesquakie Indian Settlement claiming there had been no polling place set up for the Indians and in three other precincts which surround the settlement.
One difference between Tama and the current situation in Hawaii: the Tama do-over arose AFTER the regular election day due to the lawsuit. In Hawaii, voters went into Saturday's primary knowing that the two precincts would have a delayed vote.

The do-over picked up a fair share of national attention both for its unusual nature and for the significance of the open seat. The curmudgeonly incumbent, Republican H.R. Gross, was retiring, and in the Watergate climate it looked like there was a chance for Democrats to claim the seat for the first time in decades.

But which Democrat?

In the end, it all came to nothing. The Tama do-over widened Rapp's margin to 129 votes.  Rapp went on to lose in November, but both he and Johnson have gone on to prominent legal careers.

But the ultimate winner wasn't even a lawyer, he was a farmer from Iowa. Yes, it was Chuck Grassley who won this race.

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