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Scott County Democrats launch petition for special election to fill auditor vacancy
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Scott County Democrats launch petition for special election to fill auditor vacancy

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Scott County Democrats on Wednesday announced they will launch a petition to call for a special election to fill the vacant Scott County Auditor position, despite county supervisors voting last week to fill the seat by appointment.

The Scott County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 along party lines last Thursday to appoint a person to fill the remainder of former Democratic Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz' unexpired term.

Moritz, who was nearing retirement, resigned April 23, stating she chose to step down early out of concerns over actions by state lawmakers and county supervisors she said will make the job more difficult.

County treasurer Mike Fennelly will oversee the auditor's office until an interim auditor is selected.

State law allows county supervisors to name an interim successor from the party of their choice, giving the Republican-majority board the opportunity to flip the seat in their favor for the first time since the late 1970s.

Scott County voters have elected Democrats as auditor for the past four decades.

Iowa Code, as well, allows voters to petition for a special election, but a new state law sets a 14-day deadline to pass such petitions.

The new law, sponsored by state Sen. Roby Smith, R-Bettendorf, also prevents voters from beginning to collect signatures to force an election until after county supervisors select an appointee to fill the seat through the next general election in November 2022. Previously, voters could begin circulating a petition once elected officials decided to fill the seat by appointment rather than by a special election.

Roland Caldwell, operations manager for the Scott County Auditor’s Office, said supervisors are tentatively scheduled to meet Tuesday to make an appointment, which would be temporary should Democrats successfully force an election.

That would put the deadline at 4:30 p.m. June 8 for Democrats to gather the required signatures from 9,260 eligible Scott County voters, or 10% of the votes cast in the last general election.

The soonest an election could be held is 40 days after supervisors receive a valid petition and call for a special election, Caldwell said. That, he said, would give the Scott County Democratic and Republican parties two weeks to hold special conventions to nominate candidates, or for an individual to gather at least 250 signatures from eligible voters to appear on the ballot.

Scott County Democratic Party Chairwoman Elesha Gayman, in a statement, acknowledged the party faces an uphill climb to force a special election.

"It's a challenge for sure," Gayman said. "But we're determined to resist this power grab. And, we're very encouraged by the number of phone calls we've received from Democrats, independents, libertarians and Republicans asking to join the effort and sign a petition. As Americans, they share a commitment to free and fair elections, and not simply changing the rules of the game simply because you don't like your chances of winning."

Republican Supervisors Ken Beck and Tony Knobbe said they have selected a candidate they intend to recommend the board appoint to fill the vacancy but would not say who that individual is. The pair cited an employment situation, where "if the word got out it could jeopardize that employment," Knobbe previously told the newspaper.

Asked about concerns surrounding the secrecy of the appointment and inability of the public to review and have a say about the individual's qualifications, Beck said it's the supervisors who are "elected to make those tough decisions, and so we are the ones that would vet out the qualifications."

"If the voters felt otherwise, that's what the petition for the special election is for," Beck said, adding he "fully expected" Wednesday's announcement by Scott County Democrats. "And it was within their rights to do so."

Knobbe said the individual "knows their way around elections and knows their way around the county."

"In my estimation, (they’re) well qualified," he said

Gayman, though, in her statement, argued it should be "the electorate, not the political insiders, that determine who will represent the public interest most fairly and effectively."

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