First look at Jim Mowrer's campaign for Iowa secretary of state

Vowing to fight for every vote to be counted and to “say no to making it harder and more expensive to vote,” Jim Mowrer launched his campaign for secretary of state on August 3. He is well-known to many Democrats as Representative Steve King’s 2014 opponent in the fourth Congressional district and Representative David Young’s challenger in the third district last year. Follow me after the jump for more on Mowrer’s case for his candidacy and against Secretary of State Paul Pate, including highlights from an interview with Bleeding Heartland.

Mowrer will have at least one competitor in the Democratic primary. Deidre DeJear launched her campaign on August 6. She’s on the web, Facebook, and Twitter. I recently spoke to DeJear about her background and goals and have a post in progress on her secretary of state campaign. Iowa Starting Line profiled her here.

State Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City has not ruled out the secretary of state race either, he told me in late July.

I’ve reached out to several county auditors who had floated the idea of challenging Pate in 2018. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald told me he is no longer considering a run for higher office. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announced on Facebook on August 3 that Mowrer “has my full backing.” UPDATE: Two more county auditors endorsed Mowrer on August 7. Scroll to the end of this post for details.

Nathan Blake, who had been thinking about this race, confirmed two weeks ago that he has decided against it.

Because I believe the most dangerous thing about the Trump Republican Party is its disdain for democracy and its corresponding voter suppression efforts, I had been planning to run for Secretary of State in 2018. However, in May Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller asked me to take on a new role as a Deputy Attorney General. I believe I can do the most good over the next few years working for AG Miller to stand up for the rule of law, keep Iowans safe, and protect consumers. While I won’t be running for anything this cycle, I’ll continue to fight for voting rights and other progressive policies and I’ll evaluate opportunities to serve in elected office in the future.

Bill Brauch likewise considered running for secretary of state but will not be a candidate for any office next year. Instead, he told me, he will continue volunteering as the Iowa Democratic Party’s Third District Chair.

Back to Mowrer’s campaign. This hard-hitting video circulated widely on Iowa social media feeds last week and is featured on the landing page of the campaign website, as well as Mowrer’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.

“Count the Votes” alludes to the unprecedented screw-up that left uncounted about 13 percent of the 2016 general election ballots cast in Dallas County.

My transcript:

Jim Mowrer’s voice: You don’t quit the job before it’s done. That’s what I learned growing up on a family farm in Boone.

And for many of us in Iowa, that includes exercising our right to vote.

I’ve even voted from a war zone when I was serving in Iraq with the Iowa National Guard.

I have seen first-hand what our right to vote truly costs.

But despite all the sacrifices thousands of Iowans have made to protect that right, our secretary of state, Paul Pate, the man in charge of our elections, forgot to count nearly 6,000 Iowans’ votes.

I’m standing up to say, “Never again.” I’m standing up to say no to making it harder and more expensive to vote.

And I’m standing up because every hard-working Iowan deserves to have their vote counted.

I’m Jim Mowrer, and I’m running for secretary of state, because Iowa, it’s time we all know every vote counts.

Dallas County Auditor’s Office staff made the mistakes that “caused 5,842 absentee ballots to not be counted” last November. The Secretary of State’s office issued a “technical infraction” to the county. Pate’s staff should have caught the error, but the people compiling the statewide official canvass report didn’t notice that the number of absentee votes for president in Dallas County was far below the number of absentee ballots that the county auditor had received by election day.

During an August 3 telephone interview, I asked Mowrer how he would respond to claims that the vote-counting problem wasn’t the fault of anyone in the Secretary of State’s office. He laughed before saying,

Not exactly a “buck stops here” mentality, huh? The secretary of state is the chief voting officer in our state. The secretary of state is in charge of our elections. They are responsible for ensuring every vote is counted and then certifying the election after they have counted every vote.

Paul Pate in that process forgot to count nearly 6,000 Iowans’ votes. He is responsible for that. It’s unacceptable. He has not taken responsibility for it. And since that time, instead of asking for, you know, additional resources to make sure it doesn’t happen again, he’s gone to the legislature and asked for additional resources to make it harder and more expensive for Iowans to vote.

It’s unacceptable, it needs to change, and that’s why I’m running for secretary of state.

Pate has said a new law he championed during the 2017 legislative session provided for post-election audits, preventing such a fiasco from happening again. (However, the post-election audits will occur only in some randomly-selected precincts. The entire absentee vote of each county is considered one precinct.) What did Mowrer think about post-election audits as a safeguard?

Well, there are pieces of the legislation, and I’ve read the legislation, I’ve analyzed it, looked at it. But again, when you talk about–what we really need to is invest in our voting systems, in our IT systems, in the process, work with the 99 county auditors to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. And that is not happening.

I’ve been meeting in person with, and speaking on the phone with Democratic and Republican county auditors. I have heard universally from them–these are auditors who have worked with several past secretaries of state of both parties–and say they have the worst working relationship with this secretary of state of any. He does not work well with them. He does not take their needs into account.

And, so that’s why from day one I’ve been working with the auditors because they are the ones on the ground throughout the state, conducting elections, making sure that they work smoothly, that Iowa citizens are able to cast their ballot. And so, a lot needs to change, it needs to be improved upon, and that’s what I’m focused on doing.

Pate’s testy relationship with county-level elections officials came through during his angry speech to county auditors in March. That event was supposed to be a legislative update shortly after Iowa House Republicans had approved the first version of a bill imposing new restrictions on voting, including voter ID and signature verification. The county auditors’ association opposed that bill, even though Pate had tried to win them over during the weeks before draft legislation was published.

Pate has repeatedly promised that no eligible voter will be disenfranchised under the new law, because every registered voter without a driver’s license will receive a valid voter ID card for free. How would Mowrer respond?

This is not something that’s going to happen in a vacuum. Real Iowans are going to attempt to vote in the 2018 election, to exercise their most sacred right as Americans. And people will be needlessly, uselessly turned away from the polls, because there has been no attempt to educate voters about the changes that are happening, the unnecessary, burdensome things that are happening, that are intentionally being done in a partisan political way to make it harder for some Iowans to vote.

This secretary has turned the office of voting into a partisan political game. It disgusts me. And, as–you know, I’ve voted from a war zone in 2006. I worked to organize the other soldiers in my unit to vote. I know the cost of our democracy and the difficulty that we face in ensuring that it happens securely and safely, and that every single vote is counted. And again, there’s a lot at stake here. It’s a fundamental pillar of our democracy that’s absolutely worth fighting for and needs to be defended, unfortunately. These are issues that didn’t used to be partisan. This secretary has done that. And I’m going to fight every single day between now and the election and beyond, to ensure that every single eligible citizen of Iowa is able to cast their ballots, and that it’s actually counted.

Aside from voting matters, I wondered whether Mowrer would try to change other aspects of the secretary of state’s work, such as business registrations.

Absolutely. You know, I’ve dealt with these issues in the past. I’ve registered [a business] myself. I’ve talked to other small business owners and attorneys who have to deal with this. And I’ve talked with other secretary of state and policy experts throughout the country who deal with these issues, and Iowa is way behind. You have a system that is dated, that’s not as efficient or effective as it should be. It needs to be updated.

And that’s exactly what I did at the Pentagon when I oversaw the Army office of business transformation, was to modernize the systems, IT systems, acquisition, logistics. That’s exactly what needs to happen in the Secretary of State’s office. And there’s plenty of models throughout the country of other states have have modernized, that have systems that are much better. They’re quicker, they’re more cost-efficient, and they help small businesses rather than being a hurdle for them. So I’m very excited to get to work to do that, because I believe as secretary of state I can help small businesses be created and have a system in doing all these things that help create jobs through small businesses in Iowa.

How much would it cost to upgrade Iowa’s business registration process? Clearly the voting machinery would be a lot more expensive to change.

Well, I mean, look, it depends whether you would do it piecemeal or you’d go top-to-bottom, a full change. It definitely would have an up-front cost, but based on what has happened in other states, there would be cost savings and cost avoidance, that would pay for that. So I would work with the legislature to get the funding to do that. […] I don’t know exactly how much that would be. I’ve talked with a few officials around the country […] obviously we’d want to look at and get as affordable as possible for the taxpayers, but I think it’s something that would pay for itself.

Looking at some Iowa Republican Twitter accounts last week, I noticed several comments dismissing Mowrer as a perennial candidate, looking for a new office to run for. How will he answer that criticism?

Well I don’t think that there’s a maximum number of times that I’m willing to fight for Iowans. And this is a fight worth having. There’s a lot at stake here.

And so, I’m excited about it. And again, my entire career has been in service to Iowa, in service to my country in one capacity or another. And I think Iowans are going to have the courage to fix this problem in 2018.

Before wrapping up the interview, I returned to the topic of the uncounted Dallas County votes. Even though administering elections isn’t my job, I told Mowrer, I was frustrated not to have noticed the discrepancy myself. After the election, I thought about writing an in-depth piece on Dallas County’s presidential vote, since it was one of only two counties here where Donald Trump didn’t improve on Mitt Romney’s performance against Barack Obama in 2012. (The other was Johnson County, and I knew John Deeth would take a detailed look at precinct-level results there.)

With so much other news to cover late last year, I never found the time to research or write about Dallas County voting patterns and therefore missed what would have been a great scoop. Still, I’m amazed no one in the Secretary of State’s office identified the problem before the 2016 election was certified. Mowrer commented,

It’s outrageous, and I think it speaks to the mismanagement. And I mean, when I’ve talked to auditors, they say that they just see no motivation from Pate to do his job. Just, you know, isn’t focused on the job. He’s focused on other things that are not a priority. And we need a secretary who’s focused on, you know, the most responsibility they have, which is ensuring our democracy works and every single vote is counted.

Top image: Screen shot from Jim Mowrer’s “Count the Votes” video.

From the “Meet Jim” page of Mowrer’s campaign website:

Born and Raised with Iowa Values

Jim Mowrer grew up on a farm in Central Iowa. When Jim was just seven, his father was tragically killed in a farming accident, leaving Jim’s mother, Susan, to raise Jim and his sister Ruth Ann, by herself. It wasn’t easy – they had only Susan’s small salary and Social Security survivor benefits to pay the bills.

Jim worked hard and graduated from Boone High School and married his high school sweetheart, Chelsey. Today they have two boys, Carter (9) and Jack (6), and live in the Waveland neighborhood of Des Moines. Jim works for a human services nonprofit organization and is an adjunct professor at Grandview University in Des Moines.

Called to Service for His Country

After the September 11th attacks, Jim wanted to give back and serve his country. So, upon his graduation from high school, Jim joined the Iowa National Guard, where he quickly moved up the ranks and was promoted to sergeant after just two years of service.

In 2005, Jim’s unit was mobilized and deployed to Iraq. Serving as an intelligence analyst, it was Jim’s job to help locate IEDs or roadside bombs so they could be removed before causing harm. Jim’s unit, the 1-133 Infantry Battalion, served the longest deployment of any unit in the Iraq War – 23 months.

While deployed, Jim also worked to coordinate his unit’s absentee voting process from Iraq. He saw first hand how difficult it is for some ballots to be cast, even for the Americans that defend our freedom.
While serving in Iraq, Jim finished college in between missions, earning a degree from the American Military University. Jim went on to earn a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University.

Working at the Pentagon to make the military more efficient

Jim returned to Iowa with his National Guard unit in 2007, but he returned to Iraq in 2009 as a civilian analyst and adviser to the commander of U.S. forces.

In 2010, Jim was asked to serve as the special assistant to the under secretary of the Army. At the Pentagon, Jim helped start and oversee the Army Office of Business Transformation – tasked with making the Army more effective, while saving tax dollars.

At the Pentagon, Jim also served as the Army’s lead representative to the Council of Governors, where he worked with America’s governors to help coordinate Army bases and operations in individual states across the country.

Service to Iowa

In 2014, Jim returned home to serve his fellow Iowans as a candidate for Congress and vice chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Jim Mowrer has devoted his life to serving our country and protecting what makes America and Iowa great. Now, he’s running for secretary of state. Jim knows how important protecting our voting rights is because he’s fought to protect them. Instead of encouraging voter participation, current Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate is making it as difficult and expensive as possible for Iowa’s citizens to vote. Under Pate’s watch, early voting has been dramatically reduced and the 2016 Iowa election results were certified with nearly 6,000 missing votes.

We need a secretary of state who will put Iowans’ voting rights ahead of party politics. Jim is running to continue his career of service to Iowa and ensure that voting in Iowa remains open, free, fair and secure.

UPDATE: Mowrer’s campaign announced its steering committee in an August 7 news release. His supporters include three county auditors, two state lawmakers, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, and former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky.

DES MOINES, Iowa – Jim Mowrer has announced a steering committee for his campaign for Iowa Secretary of state, with broad support from Democratic activists and elected officials across Iowa.

“It’s an honor to have support from so many activists and elected officials who know how important the Secretary of State’s office is,” said Jim Mowrer. “These leaders know that we need a Secretary of State dedicated to fair and accessible elections and I’m proud to have their trust and support in this race.”

In addition to announcing his campaign steering committee, Mowrer has also named Story County Democrats’ Chair Jan Bauer as the chair of his campaign committee.

“Jim has the experience and dedication to return real leadership to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office,” said Jan Bauer. “He has dedicated his entire career to serving the people of Iowa and there’s no better way for him to do that than ensure Iowans’ votes are being counted and working to make our elections accessible to all eligible voters. All Iowans, especially senior citizens and those with disabilities, deserve a Secretary of State who will make sure their voices are heard. The truth is, our current Secretary of State has spent his time and taxpayer dollars adding barriers that make it more difficult for these Iowans to exercise their right to vote. Whether that’s through accessible early voting options or at their polling place on Election Day, I know we can count on Jim Mowrer to make that happen.”

Mowrer’s steering committee includes three county auditors, who oversee elections and have witnessed the impact of current Secretary of State Paul Pate’s attempts to making voting as difficult and as expensive as possible.

“County auditors need a partner in the Secretary of State’s office who will work with us to make Iowa’s elections operate smoothly and give all eligible voters the opportunity to participate,” said Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert. “I know Jim Mowrer will work with all county auditors – regardless of party – to ensure our voices are heard and that we have the resources and support to do our job.”

“As a veteran who has voted overseas, Jim Mowrer knows firsthand how important it is to make elections fair and accessible,” said Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker. “As Iowa Secretary of State, I know he will continue this commitment to accessible elections and work with county auditors to encourage participation.”

“Jim Mowrer understands the important role of county auditors in our elections and I know he will work with us as Iowa Secretary of State to ensure fair and accessible elections in Iowa,” said Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz. “Every eligible citizen should have the opportunity to vote on or before Election Day and Jim Mowrer is committed to making that happen.”

Mowrer for Secretary of State Steering Committee

Jan Bauer, Story County Democrats Chair and DNC Member
Don Ruby, Iowa Democratic Party Secretary
Patty Judge, Former Iowa Lt. Governor
Travis Wiepert, Johnson County Auditor
Eric Van Lancker, Clinton County Auditor
Roxanna Moritz, Scott County Auditor
Sue Dvorsky, Former Iowa Democratic Party Chair
Bob Dvorsky, Iowa State Senator
Mary Maloney, Polk County Treasurer
Charlie McConkey, Iowa State Representative
Linda Nelson, Pottawattamie County Democrats Chair
Jim Riordan, Boone County Democrats Chair
Gary Kroeger, Former Candidate for Iowa House of Representatives
Kurt Meyer, Tri-County Democrats Chair
Alex Waters, Sioux City Councilman

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  • Perennial candidate indeed.

    That shows in the way he dodged the question on post election audits. Of course, he’s looking for allies among county election officials who also don’t like audits of elections(more work for them), so what should we expect? But thanks for asking about it. Even if he gets money for new voting machines, the need for audits remains. I’ll vote for a candidate who understands the value of audits.

  • does Mowrer have a qualification for office besides "veteran" and "ran for other stuff"?

    I think the perennial candidate title is probably fitting at this point. He’s basically the Democratic version of Miller-Meeks.