IA-Gov: Ron Corbett may not qualify for Republican ballot

Former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett may not have collected enough signatures to qualify for the GOP primary ballot for governor. Craig Robinson, publisher of The Iowa Republican blog, filed a challenge with the Secretary of State’s office today after scrutinizing copies of Corbett’s nominating papers.

Corbett’s petitions were easy to verify because the campaign had signers print their first and last name alongside their signature. It was rather easy to glance through each sheet to find a number of duplicate names, nearly all of which had the same address but were signed on a different date.

In total we found 104 duplicate signatures and 7 signatures improperly filled out. That leaves Corbett with 3,977 signatures and 28 short of the minimum 4,005 needed to access the primary ballot. […]

The fact that the Corbett campaign only exceeded the required number of signatures by about 83 in its initial but erroneous filing is a serious mistake and draws attention to a clear lack of organization and commitment to this race.

I was surprised Corbett’s campaign left it until March 16, the last day of the filing period, to bring papers to the Secretary of State’s office. That leaves little margin for error if there are any problems with the petitions. I’m stunned that a candidate who has spent years laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial bid, giving hundreds of speeches and interviews all over the state, didn’t collect hundreds or thousands more signatures than the minimum requirement. That’s standard operating procedure, because it’s not unusual for some signatures to be invalidated for various reasons.

Corbett raised $844,637.84 during 2017, mostly from larger donors during the early months of his candidacy. He reported spending $265,740.05 through December 31, mostly on staff salaries and fees for the Victory Enterprises consulting firm. The campaign started running cable television commercials in early February.

It’s hard to disagree with Robinson’s assessment today: “it’s odd that a candidate who has spent hundreds-of-thousands of dollars on ads attacking Governor Reynolds would spend all that money on ads while ignoring one of the most basic tasks of running for office. It looks like pure incompetence.”

The Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t come out of this controversy looking particularly competent either. Why didn’t staffers there catch the duplicate signatures during the review of Corbett’s petitions on March 19? UPDATE/CORRECTION: A reader objects, “The SOS doesn’t inspect signatures! They are not responsible to do this. They only count signatures and come up with totals. It is up to the public to find any issues during the challenge period.” Another agrees: “petitions that appear accurate are presumed to be valid unless challenged.” Fair enough. But the Secretary of State’s office will invalidate signatures or pages for mistakes such as having the wrong election date at the top, or having voters from multiple counties on the same page. When a candidate is so close to the minimum number, I’m surprised staff don’t look for obvious problems like duplicate names. SECOND UPDATE: The first reader, who used to do this work in the Secretary of State’s office, further explained, “Petitions are ‘accepted on their face’. Entire pages can be rejected if the heading is incorrect (because they are invalid by law and cannot be counted). Individual signature lines can be rejected if there is an obvious deficiency.” She added, “The law does not provide for filing officers to check for anything other than incomplete signature lines.”

Corbett’s main campaign staffer Cory Crowley issued this statement in response to Robinson’s challenge:

“The Corbett campaign is supported by thousands of Iowans who believe they should have a choice at the ballot box. Our campaign collected more than the required number of signatures in the required number of counties and we are confident an official review next week will find in our favor. Establishment insiders with deep ties to Governor Reynolds have tried everything they can think of to derail Ron’s campaign and protect the status quo. This is their latest attempt to prevent a fair and open primary.”

A panel comprised of Attorney General Tom Miller, Secretary of State Paul Pate, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman (or her representative) will consider Robinson’s challenge next week. In 2012, the same panel allowed State Senator Joe Seng to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in Iowa’s second Congressional district despite some problems with his petitions. I wouldn’t bank on the same outcome next week, though.

It was entirely predictable that establishment Republicans would look for an angle to challenge Corbett’s nominating papers. The best way to stop that from happening was to “overfulfill the plan,” as the Soviets used to say, by submitting far more than the minimum number of signatures.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I’ll update this post as needed.

UPDATE: James Q. Lynch interviewed Corbett for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

“I’m sure we have the adequate number and that the challenge is baseless,” he said.

But the challenge is indicative of the hostile environment his campaign has encountered, Corbett said.

“Certainly the establishment — the donor class and the special interests — have rallied around Reynolds,” he said. “But there is another important class — the people.”

He said found it interesting that rather than Reynolds accepting his challenge for a series of eight debates ahead of the primary, “one of her lackeys challenges my nomination petition.”

No doubt Reynolds would prefer not to debate Corbett before the primary. But come on: submitting barely more signatures than the minimum for a gubernatorial campaign is begging for a challenge. Other candidates, some with far smaller bank accounts, avoided this problem.

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