Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Tell President-Elect Obama to Support Verified Voting

(Verified voting has been on my mind lately, so thanks to Sean for posting this diary.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

We have an opportunity to make sure that President-elect Obama hears from citizens about the importance of verified voting. The Presidential transition team has set up a system called “Open for Questions” on change.gov Citizens submit questions of their own, and vote on other questions. The transition team will gather the responses and post answers in the New Year.

You can help by recommending this question for consideration:

“President-elect Obama has cosponsored two bills* that would eliminate unverifiable voting in federal elections. Will he ask the 111th Congress to pass a law requiring paper ballots and random hand audits of computer vote tallies?”

You can recommend as many questions as you like, so you will not lose other opportunities to share your ideas by doing this.

Tips for recommending a question on the flip.

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Thank heaven for paper ballots

The recount to determine the winner of Minnesota’s Senate race has been going on for six weeks, with a court challenge likely if Al Franken, who leads narrowly, is declared the winner. (WineRev’s diaries tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on in that race.)

Imagine how much more contentious this process would be if Minnesota did not use paper ballots in every county. Less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the vote separates Franken from Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. If touchscreen voting machines had been involved in any way, large numbers of people would surely believe the election had been rigged in favor of whoever came out ahead.

Mark Halvorson of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota published this piece on what has worked well during the Minnesota recount, and how the system could still be improved.

Iowa had more state legislative races decided by less than 1 percent of the vote this year than in any other election I can remember. Fortunately, the state legislature heeded Secretary of State Mike Mauro’s call to require optical scanner machines with paper ballots in every county, and Governor Chet Culver signed that bill into law this spring. Otherwise the legitimacy of these extremely close races could have been questioned.

If you run into Mauro, thank him for his efforts to improve Iowa’s voting system, and encourage him to ask the legislature to take the next step toward “verified voting” (mandatory manual audits of voter-verified paper records). That would allay fears about malfunctions or tampering with the optical scanners as they count the votes.

As this map at VerifiedVoting.org shows, Minnesota is one of 18 states that has mandatory manual audits of voter-verified paper records. Iowa is one of 13 states that require paper ballots, but without mandatory audits to make sure the scanners are producing accurate counts.

Keep your eye on the Iowa Voters blog for updates on election integrity news and activism in Iowa.

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Culver backs Mauro's plan to replace paperless voting machines

Governor Chet Culver has agreed to back Secretary of State Mike Mauro’s plan “to use state money to help counties switch to one uniform system with paper ballots,” the Des Moines Register reported on Saturday:

Culver said he has put together a “working group” that includes Mauro, lawmakers and Culver’s staff. They will try to figure out how to get counties equipped with optical scan machines that count paper ballots – as he has long advocated for, he said.

Good for him. As I’ve written before, spending money on equipment that would print receipts for touchscreen voting machines would just throw good money after bad. Better to ensure that every Iowan votes with a paper ballot, which can be recounted if necessary.

Also on Friday, Culver endorsed incumbent Leonard Boswell in the Democratic primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district:

He called Boswell a “dear friend” whose military background is valuable on national security issues, although he said he respects Fallon and supports the idea of competitive political races.

Meanwhile, the Register tries to make news by noting that Culver has refused to rule out running for president someday.

Come on, reporters. He’s barely a year into his first term, and with any luck we’re about to elect a Democrat who will serve as president until 2012 or 2016. Let Culver get a term or two under his belt before you start asking him whether he’ll run for president.

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UPDATED Action Alert: Contact Rep. Boswell TODAY to Protect the 2008 Election

( - promoted by Simon Stevenson)

[Update: Today we learned that Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia, like Rep. Boswell a Blue Dog Democrat, has expressed support for HR 811 even without the unfunded mandate amendment. The bill will not get to the floor until Friday, so there is time to contact Rep. Boswell, and be sure to tell him about Rep. Marshall!]

HR 811, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, is getting a vote this week. Passage of the bill is essential to a verifiable 2008 election. We need voter-verified paper records and random mandatory audits by 2008!

There is a potential amendment to the bill that needs to be defeated. An “unfunded mandate” amendment could be introduced that would delay the 2008 deadline for paper records and audits.  This amendment is unnecessary. HR 811 now allows states and counties to purchase less expensive paper-trail printers for the 2008 election. And last spring Iowa passed funding for upgrades that meet the 2008 requirements of the bill (see line 10-21). The bill is probably going to the floor on Thursday so today is the day to act.

**Call Congressman Boswell TODAY at 202-225-3806 to tell him to oppose the unfunded mandate amendment to HR 811!**

More on the flip.

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Iowa is a Red State

(On the positive side, things look good for establishing at least a paper trail here. - promoted by Drew Miller)

There is a new map at Verified Voting.  It shows Iowa in red.

Red states have fallen behind in the open elections department.  Verified Voting’s map used to concern itself with whether states had paper trails for their balloting.  Now they have moved on to asking whether states with paper trails are conducting audits to see if the machine count actually reflects the real count on the paper ballots.

States in red (danger!) on the new map have neither an audit nor even a paper trail. 

Woe is Iowa.

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