DES MOINES, Iowa — An election controversy in Iowa doesn’t center on hanging chads but on whether crossing off names with a Sharpie means they can’t be counted.
Republican Ron Corbett asked a Polk County judge Tuesday to declare that striking out signatures on his ballot petition shouldn’t be held against him and that those signatures could still be deemed valid.
A state elections panel voted 2-1 last week to decide that Corbett’s campaign for governor fell short of the required 4,005 signature threshold for the ballot by only eight signatures.
Corbett is asking the court to accept contested signatures and place him on the primary ballot as the sole challenger to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Six Democrats and two Libertarians also are running for governor.
“I had more than enough signatures, and I hope the judge sees that and puts us on the ballot,” Corbett told reporters after the hearing.
Mark Weinhardt, an attorney representing the elections panel, argued that “rules are rules” and that striking out names on a petition is unambiguous.
“Isn’t that just obvious what that means?” he asked.
Corbett’s campaign manager, Cory Crowley, signed an affidavit stating that the campaign “crossed off some signatures which I now know were fully correct and valid.”
Crowley said the campaign was seeking to comply with guidelines from the secretary of state’s office by crossing off duplicate signatures and those indicating the incorrect county of residence.
Patrick Sealey, an attorney representing Corbett, said that crossing out names was meant as a way to help state officials conduct a preliminary review of ballot petitions. He argued that, upon a challenge, the elections panel should be able to consider whether those signatures should count.
A guide for candidates available on the secretary of state’s website states: “If there are signatures that should not be included, simply draw a line through the names. Those signatures will not be counted.”
Sealey said that guidance, labeled as a “best practice,” isn’t law. He argued that the panel shouldn’t block a “substantial candidate” from the ballot over a technicality and should let voters decide.
At one point, Weinhardt showed the court a check with a crossed-out line. He said no bank would cash the check. Jacob Kline, an attorney for Corbett, responded by saying a bank would have stricter standards than the elections panel.
Corbett told reporters he’s “down for the count.” He questioned the motivation of those seeking to keep him off the ballot and rejected criticism that it’s “embarrassing” he didn’t submit more signatures.
“If I’m saved by the bell, then I’ll live on to fight another day,” he said. “And if I’m not, I guess I’ll just grab my gym bag and head for the locker room.”
District Judge David May said he would issue a ruling “as soon as prudent.”