Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Iowa Election Bills

No Big Action in Iowa Election Bills

There's no election bills on the docket of the Iowa Legislature that are as big as 2007's election day registration law, 2008's elimination of even-year school board elections, or the pre-trifecta era Republican efforts at requiring photo ID to vote. But there's still a few interesting proposals sitting at the subcommittee stage.

Thursday I looked at the recall bill, which probably got the oomph knocked out of it on Friday when the Linn County Supervisors reversed course and took their pay cut. Yesterday I noted Mark Kuhn's bill requiring special election rather than appointment for U.S. Senators, but that was mostly an excuse for old war stories.

There's a few other irons in the fire. Each year some Republican makes the move to close the polls at 8 p.m. in primary and general elections, like we do in local elections. This year it's Rep. Rod Roberts of Carroll, who the mentioner is mentioning as a possible governor candidate, has the annual Republican bill to close the polls at 8 instead of 9.

Iowa has one of the later poll closing times, as you may have noted last November when we went up on the board at the same time as most of the Mountain Zone states. Some states close as early as 6 local time.

Johnson County saw nearly 600 voters in the last hour. There were spikes in new-growth precincts like North Liberty, where more people needed more time to find out where to go; some surprising rural precincts, where long-commute folks who work in town needed extra time; and the off-campus student precincts.

The voting age for primary elections would drop to 17 ½ under Des Moines Democrat Wayne Ford's proposal. The principle is good—if you're voting in November you should be able to help choose the nominees—and is analagous to the caucus process, where you can participate if you'll be 18 on Election Day. But as it's written there's a gap of kids born in May who could vote in a primary, but not in November.

I'd like a simpler bill: if you turn 18 by November general election day, you can register and vote that whole year. That would also get rid of that weird gap of kids who are old enough to caucus but not old enough to register to vote. Probably no one cares about that but election office staffers and credentials committee chairs, which means I probably care more than anyone else in the state.

Iowa would join Nevada in adding None Of The Above to the ballot under a bill sponsored by Republicans Jeff Kaufmann and Soctt Raecker. But unlike Nevada, this plan would be binding. If NOTA wins, there's a new election with new candidates.

I've always had a problem with None Of The Above. There's a lot of ways to Make A Statement, but the ballot is about making real world, final choices, and one of the principles of a democracy is we agree to live with those choices. Even including the option sends a “government is bad and all politicians are crooks” message. The place, time, and way to address those things is through the filing and nominating process, or in the worst case by a write-in (a legitimate one, not Mickey Mouse). If you don't like your choices, do it yourself. That's what I did. My legislative race was literally a case of “if you don't do it, he's unopposed.” So I guess in that sense I was none of the above.

Raecker also joins Democrat Geri Huser in proposing campaign contribution limits. Meaningful campaign finance reform would be one of the biggest improvements in our political system (the other would be meaningful redistricting reform but Iowa already has that). But there's a case to be made that the Deam-Obama model of lots and lots and lots of small donors already is the change we need.

I suspect this Iowa bill won't fly, because of its limits on contributions from parties and (mostly) because leadership is really, really proud of the money it can raise. But it's a more realistic hope than the pipedream of the public finance VOICE bill. Public finance advocates are still at the early, early stages of public education on the issue and need to overcome the “taxpayer subsidy for politicians” mindset. Plus it's still an insider-y issue.

For now, Regular Folks don't care about campaign finance, but they really hate robocalls. A trio of bills take on this unpopular but apparantly effective tactic. Ray Zirkelbach would ban them outright, Roger Wenthe takes on the issue of how calls are identified, and Bruce Hunter is after push-polling and mandatory disclosure.

I'm of mixed mind here. Push polls often indulge in the worst sort of "have you stopped beating your wife" innuendo, but as a free speech absolutist I'm reluctant to ban anything. Robocalls will stop only if and when they stop working.

What I don't see here is the National Popular Vote Plan bill that Joe Bolkcom had last year, which would give Iowa's electoral vote to the nationwide popular vote winner, effective when states representing an Electoral College majority do the same.

It's still early in the session, and we all know the real action happens at end game, so more stuff may yet land on the table.

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