Not every bill filed in the Iowa Capitol is personal for the legislator who proposed the bill, but Senate File 36 certainly is personal to Republican Sen. Brad Zaun.
Senate File 36 requires a primary runoff election to determine a party’s nominee in case of an inconclusive primary election. Currently an inconclusive primary happens when there is not a sufficient number of candidates who received at least 35 percent of the vote. When that happens, it triggers a nominating convention.
This bill would require primary runoff elections to be held four weeks after the primary election.
Zaun won the primary election for the Third Congressional District in 2014, but only had 24.8 percent of the vote. David Young, who won the nomination at convention, finished fifth in the primary.
Few people spoke about the bill, though Molly Widen of the Secretary of State’s office expressed a couple concerns.
“We believe this has the potential to double the cost of the primary election,” Widen said. “It is not uncommon for county officers to not have somebody receive the nomination, so a lot of county offices would likely go to a runoff. And with that four-week timeline going from the primary to the runoff, and our need to hold a state canvass and re-certify those results and have ballots printed, we’d have concerns with that as well.”
She also said law requires military and overseas ballots be ready 45 days prior to the election. Four weeks would seemingly make that impossible.
Lucas Beenken of Iowa State Association of Counties, Iowa State Association of County Supervisors and Iowa State Association of County Auditors said the bill is concerning.
“The biggest thing is the unfunded mandate,” he said. “The unfunded mandate, depending if it’s countywide or statewide, the cost would be just tremendous. The Secretary of State’s Office said we’re literally doubling the cost because you’re doing it all over again.”
Beenken said since the primary is a political party activity, then political party could pay for the runoff.
Democrat Sen. Tony Bisignano said he believes if it’s a state election the money should come out of the Secretary of State’s Office budget. If it’s a county election, then the county should absorb the cost.
“It’s just a suggestion,” he said. “It’s almost like dealing with a natural disaster. You don’t want to have to have a second election, but if you do have to have one, democracy’s not cheap. Somebody’s got to pay for it.”
Bisignano referred back to Zaun’s congressional race.
“It’s a good idea,” he said. “Sen. Zaun knows it’s hard for the public to accept when something like that happens because they’d like to think that elections are who we voted for and when it’s a person who is at the bottom of the poll who ascends to the position, that’s not what people want. I do think this is more democratic, fair and people will have the opportunity to elect who got elected.”
Republican Sen. Roby Smith joined Bisignano in supporting the bill.
“I wish we wouldn’t have to be doing this bill,” he said. “I wish things would’ve worked out several years ago that this would be a moot point.”
He said the Senate may work on ways to lessen the cost of elections.
“When ever someone talks about unfunded mandate, and we take away the unfunded mandate or help, they never throw us a little party and say ‘Hey, thank you,'” Smith said. “Please keep that in mind.”
Smith acknowledged elections are expensive.
“But you know what, I know countries where there are no elections and they spend zero dollars,” he said. “I don’t think we want to live in that type of country. So yeah, elections are expensive, but it’s well worth it for letting people have the final say.”
Sen. Zaun addressed the personal aspect of the legislation.
“People think I’m a sore loser on this thing, honestly God had a different plan for me,” Zaun said. “I’m not going to be making any announcements that I’m going to be running for Congress any time soon.”
He said while he’s happy to be working in the Iowa Senate, what happened was unfortunate.
“I would have to tell you, and I mean almost on a daily basis, running into new people they say you know what happened in your election was just wrong,” Zaun said. “I think this is a problem that needs to be addressed in the state of Iowa.”
Last year the bill advanced out of the Senate, but had problems in the House. Zaun said he hopes it has better luck this year.