Linn County Auditor Joel Miller may indeed think he is providing a public service by making nomination petitions publicly available to “anyone anywhere.” He may believe it adds transparency to the process. He may believe it saves his office time and money.
But in this case, what he thinks and what he believes should not trump the safety and security of Linn County residents. And in this instance, it is clear not all Linn County residents are sold on having these nomination petitions publicly available for “anyone anywhere.”
The chair of the Linn County Democrats showed up unannounced and uninvited at a resident’s home to question her about signatures on a candidate’s nomination petition. He did not identify himself until the conversation was complete.
Miller, who is running as a Democrat for Iowa Secretary of State, seems proud of this practice. To just throw nomination petitions online for “anyone anywhere” to see.
It may save his office time and money, but laziness is not a virtue in public service.
Transparency, fiscal responsibility and time management should be balanced with privacy concerns. The documents — nomination petitions — are indeed public record and can be accessed by pretty much anyone who wants them.
But there is no reason to publicly display them for all to see.
Obtaining signatures is not likely something most candidates enjoy. Asking people to sign their name and include their home address is a big ask for some people — and probably most Iowans. But most of the time they’ll do it anyway.
However, if such a policy were in place and they knew that “anyone anywhere” would be able to access their information without having any sort of system in place to track who sees the information, there would likely be more people who feel they cannot sign petitions out of fear of retribution.
Fear that someone who supports one of the other candidates will view them and perhaps take action without any footprint being left.
The Secretary of State’s office allows candidate nomination petitions to be viewed, but they do not treat it willy nilly. Individuals have to visit the office, are supervised and sign to inspect the signature lists.
Sioux County Auditor Ryan Dokter, who is also president of Iowa State Association of County Auditors, said the Secretary of State’s process seems rational. He had never heard of an auditor putting the petitions online publicly available to “anyone anywhere.”
Dokter also agreed there would be concern of retribution or retaliation and, making the petitions accessible to “anyone anywhere” would make it much more difficult to craft a list of suspects.
There is no doubt that this practice will have a chilling effect on others who may not be willing to sign. And if not enough people are willing to sign, candidates will be kept off the ballot.
The process used by the Secretary of State’s office respects both the law as well as the privacy and security that should be afforded to individuals willing to sign. Miller’s does not.
When a chair of a county political party can simply find these documents online and show up unannounced, uninvited and interrogate the resident — that’s a problem. Let’s hope Miller realizes it.