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Stories about Iowa

Iowa to vote in 2022 on adding right to own and bear arms to state constitution

Voters in Iowa will decide in 2022 whether to add a right to own and bear firearms to the Iowa Constitution and require strict scrutiny for any alleged violations of the right brought before a court.

The amendment was certified for the ballot on January 28, 2021, after having passed both chambers of the legislature. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both the Iowa State Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives in two legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between. Every two years, half of the state senators and all of the members of the state House are up for election.

This amendment was approved as Senate Joint Resolution 18 during the 2019-2020 legislative session and required approval by both chambers of the legislature again in the 2021-2022 session.

SJR 18 was introduced on February 21, 2019. On March 13, 2019, it was approved by the Senate in a vote of 33 to 16, passing along party lines (with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed) except for one Democratic senator, Rich Taylor (D-42), who voted yes. The House approved the measure on the same day along party lines.

The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 7 in the 2021-2022 legislative session and was approved on January 28, 2021, along party lines with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed.

Amendment sponsors originally intended to pass the bill during the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 sessions to place the question on the 2020 ballot, but a bureaucratic oversight resulted in the amendment process needing to start over again, meaning the bill needed to be passed in the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 legislative sessions to appear on the 2022 ballot.

The Iowa Constitution requires notifications of any proposed constitutional amendments passed in one legislative session to be published at least three months before the general election for the next legislature—November 2018 in this case. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said that his office failed to report constitutional amendments that the 86th Iowa General Assembly (2017-2018) approved in 2018. Because of the oversight that resulted in the amendments not being published, the amendment process had to be started over again.

Republican Iowa legislators argued that the amendment was necessary because Iowa is one of six states without a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Amendment sponsor Rep. Steven Holt said, “The right to someone’s own life and the pursuit of their own happiness, their own destiny — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — cannot be separated from the right to defend their life, hence the fundamental right to keep and bear arms in our Second Amendment.” Regarding the strict scrutiny provision, Holt said, “If current or future laws are narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest regarding this fundamental individual right, they will be safe. If they do not fit that category, they will not be safe and they should not be on the books.”

Democratic Iowa legislators argued that the amendment could negate state laws such as permit-to-carry requirements and the ban of firearm ownership for felons. Sen. Kinney (D) said, “Not many of you have ever had to sit and look down the barrel of a gun. I have, on a number of occasions. When you are placing strict scrutiny into the Constitution, you’re going to be diminishing our laws that are on the books. To me, this is going to make law enforcement more dangerous.” 

Forty-four states have a right to bear arms in their constitutions. Six states— California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York—do not.

The House also passed House Joint Resolution 5 in a vote of 59-41 on January 27, 2021. HJR 5 would amend the constitution to state that Iowa does not “recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.” All 41 House Democrats voted against the bill. Of 59 House Republicans, 55 voted in favor, three voted against, and one was absent or not voting. The measure could appear on the 2024 ballot if it is approved by the Senate (where Republicans hold a 32-18 majority) during the current session and passed by both chambers of the legislature again in 2023 or 2024.

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Dickey defeats Stewart in Iowa Senate District 41 special election

A special general election was held for Iowa State Senate District 41 on January 26, 2021. Adrian Dickey (R) won the special election with 55.3% of the vote and defeated Mary Stewart (D).

The special election was called after Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) resigned effective January 2 to be seated in the U.S. House of Representatives. Miller-Meeks served from 2019 to 2021. Dickey will fill the remaining two years in Miller-Meeks’ term. 

As of January, 24 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year. Iowa held 22 special elections from 2010 to 2020.

Iowa has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the Iowa State Senate by a margin of 32-18.

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Iowa State Senate District 41 special election set for Jan. 26, 2021

Election officials have scheduled a special election for the District 41 seat in the Iowa State Senate for Jan. 26, 2021. The seat became vacant when Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) resigned effective Jan. 2 after being seated in the U.S. House of Representatives. There is no primary, and the Democratic and Republican parties will select their nominees at special conventions. The filing deadline for other candidates is on Jan. 12.



Republican win certified in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, with challenge possible

The state of Iowa certified results in the election for its 2nd Congressional District, which indicate Republicans are primed to pick up their second open seat previously held by a Democrat in the 2020 U.S. House elections. Certified results showed Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) beating Rita Hart (D) by six votes. Hart indicated she would challenge the results of the election with the U.S. House. 

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) did not run for re-election this cycle. The other open seat Republicans picked up was Michigan’s 3rd, currently represented by Justin Amash (L).

Under the Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969, the challenge will be referred to the House Administration Committee. If the committee recommends the matter to the full House, the chamber will decide the outcome by a majority vote. Article I, Section 5, of the U.S. Constitution establishes that each chamber of Congress “shall be the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members.” 

Democrats currently control the House, and they are expected to maintain their majority when the next Congress convenes.

Democrats picked up three seats in open races for districts represented by Republicans: Georgia’s 7th, North Carolina’s 2nd, and North Carolina’s 6th. There are still two remaining open seat races without a clear winner.

Across all 2020 Congressional elections, 16 seats changed hands. Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate while Republicans picked up one. In the House, Democrats picked up three seats while Republicans picked up 10 seats.



Hinson defeats Finkenauer in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District

Ashley Hinson (R) defeated incumbent Abby Finkenauer (D) in the general election for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Finkenauer was first elected in 2018, defeating then-incumbent Rep. Rod Blum (R) 51% to 46%. 

Heading into the election, Hinson had served in the Iowa House of Representatives since 2016. She was endorsed by President Donald Trump (R) and Governor Kim Reynolds (R).

The 1st District was one of 31 U.S. House districts that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election and a Democratic candidate won in the 2018 midterm elections. During the presidential election, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton (D) 49% to 45% in the 1st District.

This is one of four districts so far where the New York Times, CNN, ABC, NBC, and FOX News have each called as a Democratic to Republican flip. The other three districts (Minnesota’s 7th, Oklahoma’s 5th, and New Mexico’s 2nd) also went to President Trump in 2016. The five outlets have called two districts as Republican to Democratic flips, both North Carolina districts that were redrawn last year.



Sen. Ernst wins re-election in Iowa

Incumbent Joni Ernst (R) defeated Theresa Greenfield (D), Rick Stewart (L), and Suzanne Herzog (I) in the election for U.S. Senate in Iowa. Ernst was first elected in 2014. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $28 million on the race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee spent $20 million.

Thirty-five of 100 Senate seats are up for election. Republicans have a 53-47 majority. Of the 35 seats up, 23 are held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats, giving Republicans greater partisan risk this year. Democrats need to win a net four seats to win an outright majority in the chamber.



Are results reported on election night coming from in-person or absentee/mail-in votes?

According to a projection from The New York Times, 80 million people will vote by mail in 2020, that number is more than twice the amount of people who did so in 2016. Given that absentee ballots take longer to process and count than in-person ballots, some voters wonder whether election night results reflect both sources of votes.

Election results reported on election night include a mixture of absentee/mail-in and in-person votes. However, many states will not complete the counting of absentee votes on election night. While some states only count absentee ballots that arrive after November 3, 2020 but are postmarked by that date, and other states are legally bound to wait until Election Day to begin processing absentee/mail-in ballots.

State laws set different reporting requirements for absentee/mail-in votes on election night. The most common method is for each precinct or voting district to add together in-person and absentee votes and report the total to the state elections agency. A few states create special precincts where absentee/mail-in votes are counted separately from in-person votes. For example, in Iowa, state law requires each county to have both an absentee ballot and special voters precinct.

Unofficial election night results are often displayed alongside the percentage of precincts reporting, which is intended as a measure of how far vote counting has progressed. The percentage of precincts reporting is not the same as the percentage of the total vote that has been counted. Precincts differ in size, meaning that one precinct might report a far greater number of votes than another. In addition, some states include a precinct in its percentage of precincts reporting if the precinct has reported any results at all, even if it is far from completing the vote count.

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Steve King (R) becomes second member of Congress to lose a primary in 2020

State Sen. Randy Feenstra (R) defeated Rep. Steve King (R) in the Republican primary for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. As of 10:30 p.m. Central Time, Feenstra had received 40.6% of the vote to King’s 38.7%. No other candidate had received more than 10% of the vote.
Feenstra will face Democratic nominee J.D. Scholten in the November general election. The last Democrat to win election from the 4th district was Neal Smith (D) in 1992.
King is the second member of the U.S. House to lose a primary this year. Marie Newman defeated Rep. Dan Lipinski in the Democratic primary in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District in March.
In 2018, four members of the House were defeated in primaries: Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), and Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).


Theresa Greenfield wins Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Iowa

Theresa Greenfield defeated Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, and Eddie Mauro to win the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Iowa. As of 9:30 p.m. Central Time, Greenfield had received 44.9% of the vote with 6% of precincts reporting. Franken followed with 26.6%, while Graham had 15.6%, and Mauro had 11.7%. A fifth candidate, Cal Woods, withdrew on May 4 and endorsed Franken. Greenfield will face first-term Sen. Joni Ernst (R) in the general election.
Greenfield will face incumbent Joni Ernst (R) in the general election. Ernst was first elected in 2014, winning 52% of the vote.


Four Iowa Supreme Court justices face a retention election in November


Four Iowa Supreme Court justices will face retention elections on November 3, 2020. The justices facing retention are Susan Christensen, Edward Mansfield, Christopher McDonald, and Thomas Waterman. All four justices were appointed by a Republican governor.

Currently, six justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor while one was appointed by a Democratic governor.

In Iowa, judicial nominees are selected by the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission puts together a list of candidates they have determined to be qualified and then submits this list to the governor. The Governor must then choose one of the candidates from the list. The justice must stand for a retention election one year after the appointment. If retained, justices serve for eight years with a mandatory retirement age of 72.

Additional Reading:
Judicial selection in Iowa
Susan Christensen
Edward Mansfield
Christopher McDonald
Thomas Waterman