For the second time this year, voters in a college town will elect a new Iowa lawmaker when most students are not on campus. Governor Kim Reynolds announced today that the special election in House district 46, covering part of Ames, will take place on Tuesday, August 6.
The College and Young Democrats of Iowa quickly denounced the decision: "Anyone else having some déjà vu with the timing of this special election? @KimReynoldsIA is once again denying students - many who will not be on campus until late Aug. - the chance to vote in the IA House district they heavily occupy."
Whereas Reynolds clearly tried to suppress student and faculty voting by scheduling the Senate district 30 special election during the University of Northern Iowa's spring break, the timing of the coming vote in Ames is arguably consistent with standard Iowa practice.
However, the governor could have and should have set the date a few weeks later, allowing greater participation by Iowa State University stakeholders.
Iowa Code Section 69.14 requires the governor to order a special election for a state House or Senate seat within five days of when a vacancy arises, "giving not less than forty days’ notice of such election." If the vacancy happens during or shortly before the Iowa legislature is in session, the governor "shall order such special election at the earliest practical time, giving at least eighteen days’ notice."
After State Senator Jeff Danielson resigned on February 14, Reynolds could have ordered an election in Senate district 30 on March 12 (which would have been 22 days after she scheduled the vote on February 18). Instead, she picked March 19, the only Tuesday during spring break for Cedar Falls public schools as well as UNI.
State Representative Lisa Heddens resigned from the Iowa House on June 17, shortly before being sworn in as Story County supervisor. August 6 is 46 days from today's proclamation by the governor. In other words, it is the first Tuesday occurring after the mandatory 40 days' notice.
Some recent special elections for state legislative seats have happened on a similar schedule:
House district 82: State Representative Curt Hanson died on June 16, 2017. Reynolds announced on June 21 that the special election would happen on August 8 (48 days later).
House district 22: State Representative Greg Forristall died on May 10, 2017. Governor Terry Branstad announced on May 15 that the special election would happen on June 27 (43 days later).
House district 90: State Representative John Whitaker resigned on July 17, 2009. Governor Chet Culver announced on July 20 that the special election would happen on September 1 (43 days later).
On the other hand, Iowa law does not require the governor to choose the first possible Tuesday for a special election. Consider these examples:
Senate district 45: State Senator Joe Seng died on September 16, 2016. Branstad announced on September 21 that an election would be held on December 27 (97 days later). John Deeth commented at the time, "it would be hard to pick a worse Tuesday than the one between Christmas and New Year's for voter attention and turnout. That, of course, is the idea" for the heavily Democratic district. Branstad could have scheduled that election for December 6, 13, or 20. (Iowa law prohibits holding a special election during a four-week "blackout period" after a general election.)
House district 33: State Representative Kevin McCarthy resigned effective August 15, 2013. Branstad set the election for October 22--68 days after the vacancy arose. Earlier dates were available.
An ISU alumna herself, Reynolds is surely aware of the academic calendar and knows most students won't return to Ames until two or three weeks after voters have chosen Heddens' successor. Residents of House district 46 delivered 57 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 65 percent of the vote to Fred Hubbell in last year's governor's race. But those results happened in the context of strong student turnout.
This House seat should stay in Democratic hands despite Reynolds' attempt to manipulate the outcome. So far, three highly capable Democratic candidates are campaigning. Meanwhile, Republicans will be without their strongest potential contender. Ames City Council member Tim Gartin confirmed to Bleeding Heartland on June 21 that he will not seek this office.
Whatever the outcome, Reynolds could have used her discretion to allow more Story County constituents to elect their representative for the 2020 legislative session. That she did not reflects poorly on her sense of fair play.
UPDATE: The ISU College Democrats released this statement on the evening of June 21.
Governor Reynolds: Do Not Silence ISU Students in the HD46 Special Election
Governor Reynolds may be an Iowa State University graduate, but she has made it clear that she does not value the voices of her alma mater's current students. ISU students make up about half the population of Ames and a sizeable majority of the residents of HD46. By scheduling the HD46 special election on August 6th, nearly three weeks before students begin classes on August 26th, Governor Kim Reynolds has taken away the ability of thousands of ISU students to choose the person who will represent them in the Iowa House of Representatives.
This follows a familiar pattern by the Governor of scheduling special elections for her party's perceived political advantage. This past spring the Governor scheduled the SD30 special election in Cedar Falls to fall over University of Northern Iowa's spring break. Student groups stepped up and worked hard to help as many students as possible obtain absentee ballots, but it should not require extraordinary work for students to participate in our democracy.
"Governor Reynolds could have scheduled this election on nearly any Tuesday this fall. Our legislature doesn't convene until January, and a longer campaign would allow all voters to make a more informed decision at the polls," said Raj Oberoi, Political Director of the ISU College Democrats. "There is no compelling reason why this seat must be filled in early August. It's clear that the Governor chose this date specifically to cut thousands of ISU students out of the process"
ISU student voters deserve to participate in this election. Governor Reynolds knows this, but once again she chooses political expediency over democracy. The ISU College Democrats call on the governor to reschedule the HD46 special election to a date when students will be in session so that all residents of the district can participate in choosing their representative.
LATER UPDATE: Democrats will choose a nominee for this race on Saturday, June 29 at 10:00 am in the Ames High School cafeteria.