By Iowa City Press-Citizen
According to the Johnson County Auditor’s website, Iowa voters will have many options when voting for U.S. president and vice president on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The list is likely to include, in alphabetical order:
— Virgil Goode/James Clymer, Constitution Party.
— James Harris/Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party.
— Gary Johnson/James P. Gray, Libertarian Party.
— Gloria LaRiva/Stefanie Beacham, Party for Socialism and Liberation.
— Jerry Litzel/Jim Litzel, nominated by petition.
— Barack Obama/Joe Biden, Democratic Party.
— Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan, Republican Party.
— Jill Stein/Cheri Honkal, Green Party.
Until Tuesday, it was unclear whether the Libertarian Party candidates would appear on the ballot at all.
Libertarian Party officials said they held a caucus at the Iowa State Fair last month to get Johnson — a popular former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico — onto Iowa’s ballot. But two Republican voters (Gloria Mazza of Clive and Dean Montgomery of Urbandale) challenged that assertion and filed suit claiming that, rather than hold a convention, the Libertarians merely had volunteers persuade fairgoers to sign a document that said they were delegates for Johnson. (Even though the two petitioners appear to be regular Iowans, the complaint makes clear that Jay Kramer, a staffer for the Mitt Romney campaign, played role in the challenge.)
The challenge first went before a bi-partisan panel of three state officials — Secretary of State Matt Schultz, Attorney General Tom Miller and Warren Jenkins, the chief deputy for the state auditor — who concluded that Iowa’s law isn’t clear in its definitions of a convention or caucus.
When in doubt, the panel members decided, open ballot access should prevail. So on Aug. 29, they voted unanimously to allow Johnson on the ballot.
The panel’s decision didn’t settle the matter, however. And the voters’ attorneys filed documents Aug. 30 in Polk County District Court asking a judge to review the panel’s decision.
Time was running out, however, because county auditors need to have their ballots printed Friday to be able to send them to overseas military members by the Sept. 22 deadline.
On Tuesday, Judge Arthur Gamble decided that the panel was right and that state law does not contain detailed procedural rules for the nomination of third party candidates. Rather than deprive any electors of their lawful opportunity to express their preference at the ballot box, the judge ruled that Johnson’s name should be on the ballot.
According to The Associated Press, the challengers have decided not to appeal Gamble’s ruling.
We think the judge and the panel members made the right decision — especially given how Johnson and other third-party candidates are experiencing similar challenges in several other states.
We’ve editorialized before that if Iowa is serious about making its elections as open and transparent as possible, then our Democratic, Republican and independent lawmakers need to make it possible for other parties — from across the political spectrum — to participate more fully.
Thus, any vagueness in the law needs to be interpreted to allow — rather than to disqualify — greater participation by those parties.
That said, to avoid future last-minute scrambling right before the ballot-printing deadlines — especially for what turns out to be a frivolous challenge — lawmakers might want to revisit the law and provide a clearer but equally accessible threshold for what constitutes a convention.