Archive for the ‘Power’ Category

Iowa Election News: New legislation review – SF413

March 26, 2021

The attached pdf from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Legal Counsel summarizes each section of SF413, which was recently signed by the Governor. The key to this new legislation is communication to election administrators like me and my office, and to the public. To that end, this legislation requires county treasurers to print that the polls will be closing at 8pm on county issued property tax bills.

While printing the poll closing times on property tax bills may notify property taxpayers who receive a tax bill, it will do nothing for the taxpayers who don’t read the entire tax bill or for those who don’t receive property taxes bills.

If the State does not thoroughly notify every registered voter of the 8pm deadline – not once, but at least three times prior to the next election – I could easily see 100 to 1,000 absentee ballots not being counted in the November 2021 election because my office did not receive the ballots prior to the 8pm deadline.

SF413 seems to be specific about what I have to do and what I cannot do. So am I in violation of the new law if I take an initiative to inform my constituents/voters that the polls close at 8pm when one or more counties do not take the same initiative? Is the new standard for 98 commissioners of elections to do no more than the county commissioner with the least initiative?

SF413 looks like a race to the bottom for Iowa’s elections.  I hope I’m wrong.  Posted by Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

From: Widen, Molly [SOS] <Molly.Hammer@sos.iowa.gov>
Sent: Thursday, March 25, 2021 3:11 PM
Subject: New Legislation Review – SF413

Auditors, Deputies and Staff,

As was discussed during the ISACA spring conference, I have produced a walk-through review of Senate File 413 (SF413). Because this legislation went into effect immediately upon enactment with the signature of the Governor, it is very important that we all quickly become familiar with the language of this bill.

In order to accommodate availability to all election administrators in all 99 counties, this video is available for you to watch in the Auditor’s Portal on the Secretary of State’s website at the following location: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/video/legreviewsf413.mp4. We request that everyone watch this video and submit any questions for clarification by Friday, April 2. Based on the questions we receive, we will determine the best method for follow-up. That may involve production of a Frequently Asked Questions document or may include a more in-depth Teams meeting depending on needs reflected in your feedback.

The language of this bill is being integrated into the Election Administrator’s Handbook, and updates to those chapters are a top priority right now. We are making good progress toward meeting our goal of having the first five chapters updated and available by mid-April. Relatedly, you can expect another email regarding City–School Election materials in the very near future.

Attached is a pdf of SF413 that we have prepared to assist you in locating a particular section when referring back to the bill. It includes a summary of each section in the margin, and we believe it would be very useful for you to print this document and follow along while watching this video. You are encouraged to make your own notes on this document to make it an even better resource for yourself moving forward.

As I mention throughout the recording, there are some sections of this legislation that will require administrative rules to establish statewide standards and consistent implementation. Because this bill has gone into effect, there is no transition period for the administrative rules process to be completed prior to needing to run elections under these new laws. We understand that vacancy elections are already in the works in some areas, and others may crop up on any given day. If an election is called in your county, please reach out to us so that we can work through implementation of SF413 with you.

If you still have questions after watching the video in its entirety and reviewing the attached version of the bill, then you may submit questions for follow-up by next Friday, April 2. When formatting your questions, please keep in mind that I will not answer questions about hypothetical scenarios. While I understand that election officials are planners, our office is prepared to assist you in navigating real world scenarios and issues as they come up. Asking questions regarding hypothetical fact patterns can lead to confusing, incomplete answers, so I would ask that you stick to clarifying questions about the state of the law today. You can submit your questions at the following link. If you have more than 5 follow-up questions, you may submit the form more than once.

Thank you for taking time to apprise yourselves of these new requirements in your role as an election administrator. We look forward to receiving your questions for follow-up by next Friday, April 2.

Sincerely,

Molly M. Widen – Legal Counsel – Office of Iowa Secretary of State


SF413 Redline.pdf

Exhibit #1: Legislature making elections more complicated

February 2, 2021

During today’s Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting, Linn County’s Deputy Commissioner of Elections and I updated the Board on proposed legislation, i.e., Senate File 115, which would:

1> Reduce the number of days to request an absentee ballot from the current 10 or 11 days before an election to 15 days.

2> Require ballots to be postmarked no less than 10 days before the election rather than the current 1 day before an election.

If SF115 is signed by the Governor in its current form and goes into effect, AND a massive effort is not commenced to inform every voter, then thousands of future absentee ballots lacking a postmark 10 or more days ahead of an election may be disqualified.

MY PROPOSAL: I don’t like absentee ballots coming in after the election ends at 8pm (local elections) or 9pm (primary & general elections). Instead of creating a bunch of random, pulled out of thin air deadlines, let’s just end the election at 8pm/9pm on election night.

And once you make the decision to put a hard deadline on when the election ends, then publicize the heck out of it to ensure every voter is aware of the deadline. And allow counties to install absentee ballot drop boxes throughout the county that are staffed on election night to ensure no absentee ballots are dropped after the deadline, and all ballots are returned to be counted in the results.

Iowa’s 2020 general election wasn’t broke and doesn’t need to be fixed. Don’t make voting complicated by adding a bunch of deadlines no one will remember. #MakeVotingSimple Posted by Joel D Miller – Linn County Commissioner of Elections

Update 10:01AM | 2/3/2021 | For the 2020 general election, @lc_elections received 52,497 mailed in absentee ballots. If the proposed SF115 law had been in effect and no one knew about it, 8976 ballots would have been disqualified due to late arriving mailed in ballots.

Auditor Miller’s statement re Secretary Pate’s proposed emergency election directive

July 17, 2020

Statement by Linn County Auditor Joel D. Miller regarding the Iowa Secretary of State’s proposed Emergency Election Directive to be considered by the Iowa Legislative Council on 17 July 2020

I believe that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are privileged to administer the election process must do everything reasonably possible to assist voters’ participation in a safe manner. I am hopeful the Legislative Council will approve the Secretary’s request to provide absentee ballot request forms (ABRF) to Iowa’s voters. I hope the Secretary distributes the ABRFs in a time frame that does not overly burden Iowa’s county auditors when the ABRFs are mailed by the voters to the county auditors.

I disagree with the Secretary’s attempt via his proposed directive to dictate the form in which county auditors can mail ABRFs to each auditor’s voters.

The Code of Iowa contains over 600 pages of laws pertaining to elections. For example, Election Laws of Iowa 2019, a document published by the Legislative Services Agency, is comprised of 636 pages.

In 2020, the Legislature decided to remove the Secretary’s discretion to send out ABRFs to every active registered voter in the State. Those same legislators that decided to remove the Secretary’s discretion were well aware that some of Iowa’s county auditors had mailed out ABRFs prior to the June 2nd primary election. During that same legislative session, those same legislators could have easily removed county auditors’ discretion to mail out ABRFs. They didn’t. They knowingly chose NOT to restrict county auditors’ discretion on mailing out ABRFs.

Now comes the Secretary, seeking permission from the Legislative Council to command county auditors across the State to only mail out officially prescribed blank ABRFs, i.e., if a county auditor chooses to mail out an ABRF.

I do not believe the legislative intent of the Code sections cited by the Secretary was intended to give the Secretary the discretion to pick and choose which election laws he wants to change. And I certainly do not believe the legislative intent was for the Secretary to create laws out of thin air and impose them on other duly elected officials, i.e., county auditors who have a duty to serve the voters in their counties.

What is the harm of voters in Linn County receiving an ABRF from their county auditor and one from the Secretary? None. And that exact scenario occurred prior to the June 2nd primary. What was the result of Linn County voters receiving two ABRFs – one from the Secretary and one from their county auditor? More voters than ever requested an absentee ballot and those same voters and others returned their requested absentee ballots at a rate that broke a primary election turnout record that had been set in 1994.

In summary, I applaud the Secretary’s desire to mail out ABRFs to Iowa’s voters in this unprecedented time of a pandemic. I’m glad to see that he and I are on the same page when it comes to giving our voters the option to vote safely by mail.

I find it absurd that the Secretary is planning to tell me and some of my peers how to send out ABRFs to our voters, when we took the initiative prior to the June 2nd primary to send out ABRFs weeks before the Secretary finally came to the decision to send out ABRFs across the State. The Secretary should stick to doing his job and let us do ours. | Posted by Joel D Miller – Linn County Auditor & Commissioner of Elections

Emergency Election Directive_Proposed.pdf

**********************************************

From: Burhans, Heidi [SOS] [Heidi.Burhans@sos.iowa.gov]
Sent: Friday, July 17, 2020 10:03 AM
To: Burhans, Heidi [SOS]
Subject: Proposed Emergency Election Directive

Dear County Auditors, Deputies and Staff:

Thank you for taking the time to participate in our conference calls and post-election survey. It is very important that we all work together to conduct a clean, fair and secure election and keep Iowa voters, PEOs and yourselves safe during this pandemic. Based on your feedback, we are asking the Legislative Council for the ability to do a statewide absentee ballot request form mailing per the attached Emergency Election Directive. They are expected to convene today, and we will let you know as soon as a decision is made.

Here is a link to the agenda which includes call-in information: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/committees/meetings/agenda?meetingID=32076

Heidi L Burhans – Director of Elections – Office of Iowa Secretary of State Paul D Pate

 

Vote by mail ain’t broke – don’t fix it

June 4, 2020

By all accounts, Iowa’s June 4th primary election was a resounding success. More citizens than ever participated, and while we won’t know for maybe two weeks whether anyone who worked at the polls or went to the polls left with Covid19, an overwhelming number of voters voted by mail using Iowa’s absentee ballot process.

So why is someone floating convoluted legislation to ban the Iowa Secretary of State from again mailing out absentee ballot request forms to every active registered voter before the November general election? [See attached HF2486] Evidently, someone in the Iowa Legislature has it out for voters who took advantage of the vote-by-mail process. Or they just want to discriminate against voters like me, who are over the age of 60. The interesting fact about the voters who used the vote-by-mail process is that in 64 of Iowa’s 99 counties, Republican voters were a majority of the voters who took advantage of the absentee ballot process and voted absentee. [See attached AbsenteeCounty2020]

We are all familiar with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I don’t know who the author(s) of the attached version of HF2486 are, but unless this is a late arriving April Fool’s Joke, they need to focus on the original intent of HF2486, which was to fix the problem they created when they required us to put the County Treasurer’s seal on our official ballots – see https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=88&ba=hf2486

Vote by mail ain’t broke. Don’t fix it. – Posted by Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

HF2486.pdf

AbsenteeCounty2020 – More Rs voted absentee than Ds in 64 counties.pdf

Press Release: US Senator Duckworth makes surprise visit to deported veterans In Mexico

November 12, 2019

Editor’s note: As a veteran and an elected official, I am disgusted by the deportations of fellow veterans who honorably served in the United States Military. My perception is that these deportations are arbitrary and capricious. If you have information to the contrary, please post it below. Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Contact: David Cruz | (818) 689-9991 | davidcruz

Nation’s Oldest & Largest Latino Civil Rights Organization Arrives with Former Army Lt. Colonel, Now U.S. Senator

Washington, DC – Domingo Garcia, National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) crossed the border early today and traveled to Tijuana with one of the nation’s leading Congressional advocates for veterans, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois). Their delegation also included repatriated Army Special Forces combat soldier, Miguel Perez and Carlos Luna, Council President, LULAC Green Card Veterans based in Chicago, Illinois.

“We made this important visit, unannounced for security reasons, to personally let all deported Latino veterans know that LULAC and Senator Duckworth do not forget them and we will not stop fighting until each and every one of them has been returned home to the country they defended,” said Garcia. “Americans must demand that our immigration laws be changed so that no veteran is kicked out of the U.S. after putting their lives on the line, come back with PTSD, can’t access medical care and fall into trouble. They pay their debt to society for their mistakes but then face a separate penalty because they’re not U.S. citizens and wind up getting deported. This is wrong and we must repatriate all veterans who have suffered this injustice,” he added.

The LULAC Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, chaired by Roman Palomares, is contacting the governors of each of the states where Latino veterans have been deported and asking them to consider signing acts of clemency allowing the former soldiers to return to the United States and have new immigration hearings. This is what was done by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on behalf of deported veteran, Miguel Perez who successfully obtained his citizenship on October 4, 2019.

“As I shook the hands of these deported veterans and left Tijuana, I couldn’t help but feel they’re still soldiers in a different type of combat every day because their lives are still on the line, “said Garcia. “They’re targets of the plata o plomo danger because criminals see them as potential recruits and those who refuse to join them face the very real threat of harm or even death. None of us must rest until they are safe once again,” he added.

Palomares says Veterans Day is a good opportunity for encouraging our members to consider veteran-related activities year-round. Visit a VA hospital, unfurl and proudly display an American flag, reach out to a veteran you know or simply say thank you to a military service member we might see.

“Being an American veteran isn’t about war or conflict, although we may be called upon to face that too,” says Palomares. “It is about safeguarding the peace and helping to make sure that our nation remains a country where people can live free of fear and that their families can thrive and prosper. LULAC is proud to stand with them and together, we shall continue to defend and fight for the principles upon which our nation is founded,” he concludes.

Why do we have inspectors general?

October 15, 2019
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL

America is in a full-blown constitutional crisis for one reason: The fox has mostly been left in charge of the henhouse. These days, virtually any attempt at assigning responsibility and accountability at the president’s feet — however factually and legally legitimate — is met with howls of outrage. Of course, this construct gets it all wrong. The American revolutionaries fought and died for independent self-governance — not so they could crown an American king.

After Watergate, lawmakers realized that transparency and accountability in government are vital to a functioning democracy. Congress passed the Inspector General Act of 1978. Under the original statute, President Jimmy Carter appointed 12 inspectors general (IGs).  Click to continue reading….

 

Top secret: How many of our deceased were cremated?

January 30, 2018

How many cremation permits were signed by the Linn County Medical Examiner (ME) from 1/1/2017 – 12/31/2017? According to not one, but two assistant county attorneys, I have no legal remedy to find out.

Forget about Iowa’s Open Records laws (Code of Iowa Chapter 22) – medical examiner records are confidential public records. And forget about my power to audit – Code of Iowa section 331.502(41) – the fees the medical examiner receives for signing cremation permits have never been deposited into a county fund or account so there is no county fund or account to audit. This reminds of that greasy pig contest my 4-H club held in the 70s.

Earlier this month, I blogged about How much do cremation permits cost taxpayers? I wanted to know how much revenue is generated by the ME for signing cremation permits since the County’s taxpayers are ultimately paying this death tax. It seemed like a simple question. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors had little interest in knowing the answer.

I did not let it go.

Last week, I sent an open records request to our medical examiner – see attached. Today, I received a reply from an assistant county attorney – see attached. And now that I have reviewed a cremation permit form, I realize I don’t need and I don’t want all of the data on the form. But the ME could redact everything on the form except for the name of the decedent and a date, and I could count the number of signed permits to determine the fees he earned. Or at the very least, the ME could give me a notarized statement as to the number of cremation permits he signed in 2017.

Or the Board of Supervisors could order the ME to disclose the number of cremation permits he signed … or threaten to cancel his contract if he didn’t disclose the numbers. What are the odds of that happening?

So are the taxpayers of Linn County paying their ME $30K, $70K, or $100K per year for him to sign cremation permits? How many Linn County residents are being cremated per year? The answers to those questions are top secret until someone in a position of power asks them … and discloses the facts. And that’s not me. Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Response from assistant county attorney on 1-26-2018 re Public records request for copies of signed cremation permits.pdf

Public records request to Dr Linder – ME dated 1-23-2018.pdf

$15K per acre and other tidbits from the CAFR

December 18, 2017

On 12/15/2017, Linn County’s Director of Finance published the County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ending 6/30/2017 – see attachment. As expected, it’s all good news and our AAA bond rating is intact.

I am not an accountant so when I look at this report, I look at it as your Auditor and as a taxpayer. Here are some tidbits I found:

1> Page 3 – The terms of eight of our ten county officers will expire at the end of 2018. Starting on 1/2/2019, we will only have three county supervisors.

2> Page 4 – Three of the departments in the County are governed by autonomous, independent commissions or boards (appointed by the Supervisors).

3> Page 5 – Our outside auditor only audited what we, the County, gave them to audit and their report is based on what we gave them to audit.

4> Page 19 – The Board of Supervisors purchased 485 acres of property aka the Dows property for $7.2M or $14,845 per acre. In my opinion, they entered into the business of speculating on land and paid too much for this land.

5> Page 20 – In FY2017, the County’s bond debt increased from $18.435M to $24.470M.

6> Page 20 – In FY18, the County’s revenue from property taxes will increase by $3.495M or 5.5% based upon the County’s current levy rate of $6.14 per thousand dollars of taxable value. The Board of Supervisors discussed lowering the levy rate last year, but declined to lower it. Looks like they will have an opportunity to lower the levy in an election year so I am betting they will lower it in 2018. The Board was able to maintain the $6.14 rate for several years due to three factors: an increase in property valuation (Thank You taxpayers for continuing to add value to your properties), a decrease in the rollback percentage that increases the portion of your property that is taxed (set by the State of Iowa), and increased assessments on your property (due to an increase in the market value of your properties determined by the County and Cedar Rapids assessors).

7> Page 114 – On 6/30/2008, the County’s general obligation (GO) bond debt was $1.2M; on 6/30/2009, GO debt was zero ($0.00); and on 6/30/2017, GO debt was $23.980M. Every man, woman, and child residing in the County is now responsible for $105.05 of the County’s outstanding GO bond debt.

8> Page 118 – Per person personal income is reported to be $45,483; however, the US Census Bureau indicates the County’s median household income, which includes all adults and any child 15 years of age or older, is $60,989 with 10% of our population living in poverty.

9> Page 125 – On 6/30/2008, the County employed the equivalent of 825 full-time employees (FTE). As of 6/30/2017, the County employed 739 FTEs. Over those last ten fiscal years, Linn County Community Services lost the most employees, i.e., 89 employees. The Child Support Recovery Unit was eliminated along with its 22 employees. The Sheriff added 16 employees, Public Health added 9 employees, and Conservation added 4 employees. The Auditor’s Office reduced its FTEs from 18 to 17.

The CAFR is 136 pages long. In addition to the CAFR, the 2017 Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) was inserted into today’s (12/18/2017) Gazette. Certainly, there are other tidbits that may peak your interest, but the preceding are some of the tidbits I found. Enjoy! – Joel D. Miller (NP) – Linn County Auditor

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report FY17.pdf

Vote buying, campaigning, or official business?

September 15, 2017

At least one locally elected official has a hard time differentiating when he is performing his official duties versus campaigning. He cannot seem to keep his roles or his wardrobe straight.

I have seen a similar occurrence on Facebook, e.g., is that comment that a county supervisor just made a campaign comment or an official comment? If the comment was posted between 8am and 5pm, and they are Linn County elected officials, i.e., full-time elected officials, then the only comments they should be making are official comments.

So imagine my surprise when I received my Linn Newsletter this week and saw Supervisor Chairperson Brent Oleson on the front page presenting an oversized $20,000.oo Linn County check to the Good Ole Boys. And then realized he was wearing his Re-Elect Oleson Supervisor t-shirt. Come on Brent! Do you have any ethics?

And even if wearing campaign clothes is legal while giving away 20,000 tax dollars, why do you have to mix campaigning with official business? Don’t you remember me confronting you about wearing your campaign clothes to official Board of Supervisors meetings? Why did you think it was OK to present an oversized Linn County check wearing your campaign t-shirt?

Brent, there is something wrong with your What’s Right versus What’s Wrong meter. And you need to fix it! This photo of you presenting $20,000.oo makes it appear that you are buying votes. And that makes every elected official in Iowa look bad. -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor
20170915111348225.pdf

$103K per year for 3 hours per week

June 16, 2017

OK, that headline is not fair. But the purpose of a headline is to get you to read the story. And the story here is about whether the Linn County Board of Supervisors (BOS) needs to meet three times per week.

From time to time over my past ten years as Auditor, I have asked the BOS to consider scheduling less public meetings. I usually bring it up when they complain about the cost of publishing their meeting minutes in the County’s four official newspapers. Why does the BOS need to meet three times per week? Maybe they could get their public work done in two meetings per week? And in some weeks, they could get their work done in one meeting per week. In fact, in one week earlier this year, they had one meeting via telephone that lasted five (5) minutes.

If you review the attachment, you will see that the BOS met publicly an average of just over three hours per week over the first 24 weeks of 2017. That tells me that they could get their work done in one meeting per week the majority of the time. Now, I am not advocating for less meetings because I want the BOS to work less, but preparing, holding, and reporting on three meetings per week takes up more staff time per week than meeting once per week. And it would likely reduce the length of the meeting minutes published in the newspapers.

As for the individual BOS members attendance records, they range from a low of 76% attendance to a high of 89% attendance for the first 24 weeks of 2017. Seems like their attendance could be higher if the members cooperated with each other and scheduled their official meetings around vacations and other county business. The BOS’s three meetings per week ritual seems to be carved in stone … except when it’s not. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

BOS Attendance week ending 6-16-2017.xlsx


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