# Paul Pate



How Joel Miller won the Democratic race for Iowa secretary of state

Going into the June 7 primary, I anticipated a close Democratic contest for secretary of state. Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker had few substantive disagreements and few opportunities to reach a mass audience. The campaign received relatively little news coverage, and the candidates didn’t get speaking time at the Iowa Democratic Party’s large fundraiser in April.

While Miller’s home base was in a larger county, Van Lancker had raised and spent much more on the secretary of state campaign. His team had a paid consultant, purchased the Iowa Democratic Party’s voter file, and began significant digital advertising two months before the primary. Van Lancker spent $5,863 on Facebook ads alone, making tens of thousands of impressions, according to Meta’s ad library. In contrast, the majority of Miller’s campaign spending went toward collecting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The result was surprisingly lopsided: Miller received 97,896 votes (71.7 percent) to 38,602 (28.3 percent) for Van Lancker. The winner carried 98 counties, losing only Clinton, where voters had previously elected Van Lancker four times.

I interviewed Miller about his victory on June 8 and reached out to engaged Democratic voters for insight on how they picked a candidate for this race.

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Paul Pate hails primary turnout despite huge drop from 2020

Secretary of State Paul Pate often uses the #BeAVoter hashtag and has repeatedly claimed that he works to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat” in Iowa.

Since the June 7 primary election, Pate has spun the numbers as if they reflected a trend toward greater participation. In reality, this year’s primary turnout was way down compared to 2020, when Pate genuinely tried to make it easier for Iowans to vote during a pandemic.

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Court: Iowa's early filing deadline for third parties unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that Iowa’s early filing deadline for third-party candidates “imposes a substantial burden” on the Libertarian Party of Iowa’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Iowa legislators changed the state’s election law in 2019 to require independent candidates or those affiliated with a non-party political organization (like the Libertarian or Green Party) to file nominating papers for state or federal offices by mid-March, the same deadline as for Democrats and Republicans running in primaries.

The Libertarian Party and Jake Porter, the party’s 2018 nominee for governor, filed suit in 2019, saying the change put “heavy burdens” on third parties, and the adverse treatment served no legitimate state interest.

Helen Adams, chief magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, ruled on April 8 that Iowa’s legal framework places third parties “at a disadvantage” compared to the major parties, and the state’s “articulated interest in effective and equitable administration of election laws” did not justify those burdens.

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Van Lancker highlights early voting in first ad

Iowa Democrats have only two competitive statewide primaries this year: for U.S. Senate and for secretary of state. Both Democrats running for the latter office are long-serving county auditors who are not widely known outside their home counties (Linn County for Joel Miller and Clinton County for Eric Van Lancker).

Van Lancker began introducing himself to a wider circle of voters this week with his first digital ad. The 60-second spot highlights the benefits of early voting. According to an April 5 news release, the campaign will release a 30-second version of this ad for television in May. Under a law Republicans enacted last year, Iowa’s early voting period will begin on May 18, just 20 days before the June 7 primary.

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How could this happen?

During a suspenseful meeting on March 29, the State Objection Panel allowed just enough signatures to stand for U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer, Attorney General Tom Miller, and State Representative Jeff Shipley to stay on the ballot.

Finkenauer needed at least 100 valid signatures from at least nineteen counties and hit nineteen exactly, with 100 in one county and 101 in two others. The Republicans who challenged her candidacy are seeking to reverse the outcome in court.

Miller needed at least 77 signatures from at least eighteen counties, and barely made it with 78 signatures in the eighteenth county.

Shipley needed at least 50 signatures from the Iowa House district where he is seeking re-election and was left with 52.

Many Iowa politics watchers have been wondering how these experienced candidates ended up hanging by a thread.

Bleeding Heartland asked all three campaigns why they didn’t give themselves more of a cushion by collecting far beyond the minimum number of signatures. Only one candidate answered the questions.

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