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Flip the ballot: Judicial retention and referendums


This election season, it may be a challenge to look beyond the dramatic clash between the presidential candidates — but when heading to the polling booth, don’t forget to flip the ballot over. The back of the ballot contains public measures, the judicial retention ballot and candidates for nonpartisan offices like the soil and water conservation district commissioners.

Photo by Zak Neumann

The judicial retention ballot determines whether or not judges sitting on the Iowa Supreme Court, Iowa Court of Appeals and local district courts will continue serving. Judges must receive a simple majority of yes votes to continue serving another term.

Judges in Iowa are not elected. Applicants are reviewed by a nominating commission that selects a panel of candidates based on merit. The governor then selects one of those candidates. Voters can vote in retention elections to decide whether judges continue serving.

The retention vote has been a point of contention in the past. During the 2010 midterm elections, over $1 million poured into Iowa for television ads and campaigns to oppose three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were up for retention. The justices were removed from the court after receiving about 45 percent of the vote.

The opposition was inspired largely by the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in 2009 to uphold a lower court’s decision finding an Iowa statute limiting marriage to one man and one woman unconstitutional. The ruling made Iowa the third state in the country to allow same-sex marriage.

“Unfortunately in 2010 the system was manipulated, hijacked by a group that opposed the concept of same sex-marriage,” Guy Cook, chairperson of the Iowa Bar Association’s Fair and Impartial Courts Committee, said. “These justices didn’t necessarily have to personally agree with same-sex marriage, but they found that to treat people differently was a violation of the Constitution.”

Cook said voters shouldn’t base their votes on whether they agree with individual rulings but whether the rulings are fair and impartial and the judge hasn’t been found guilty of any misconduct or other behaviors that would suggest they were incompetent to sit on the bench. Voters can find the bar association’s judicial performance evaluations online to see for themselves how the judges on the ballot have performed.

“The bar association supports retention of all the justices and other judges on the ballot because of their high marks on the evaluations,” Cook said.

The Family Leader, a conservative, faith-based group, released a statement earlier this year noting that while the group will not be devoting the time and resources to a judicial vote campaign this election season, they encouraged Iowans to vote against “judges who have used their office for political activism.”

The group argued that the Supreme Court justices should be voted out based on rulings upholding same-sex marriage and access to telemed abortions.

Judicial Retention

Supreme Court
Brent R. Appel
Mark S. Cady
Daryl L. Hecht

Court of Appeals
Gayle Vogel
David R. Danilson
Richard H. Doyle
Amanda Potterfield

District 6

District Court
Chad A. Kepros
Kevin McKeever
Sean W. McPartland
Ian K. Thornhill
Lars G. Anderson
Christopher L. Bruns

District Associate
Jason A. Burns

Associate Juvenile
Susan Flaherty

Referendums

There are a handful of public measures on the ballot in Johnson and Linn counties this year.

Public Measure C
A proposed change to the Iowa City Charter, which would decrease the required number of signatures on a petition to put an inititiative or referendum on the ballot

Public Measure D
A proposal to decrease the number of supervisors on the Linn County Board of Supervisors from five to three

Public Measure E
A $40 million bond issue in Linn County—$22 million for water quality and land protection and $18 million for trails and parks

Public Measure F
An amendment to the Home Rule Charter in Marion that would make it so that ward representatives on the city council are elected by the residents of specific wards rather than by all Marion residents

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 209.


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