By Jason Noble
Democrat Brad Anderson on Tuesday pledged to administer Iowa's elections as a nonpartisan if he's elected next month as Secretary of State.
Anderson, a Des Moines political consultant and small business owner, described his goals for raising voter turnout in Iowa and broadening access to the polls during a "voting rights town hall" at the Des Moines Central Library.
The event was organized by iVote, a group dedicated to electing Democratic secretaries of state, and featured Democratic secretaries Jason Kander, of Missouri, and Mark Ritchie, of Minnesota, alongside Anderson.
Despite the straight-ticket representation on the panel, all three stressed the need for a nonpartisan elections administration.
"The office should be approached in a nonpartisan way, period," Anderson said, telling the crowd of about 40 that his proposals for online voter registration and optional automatic vote-by-mail have the support of Democrats and Republicans alike.
Kander, a first-term secretary in Missouri, likened the office to an umpire in a baseball game rather than a player on one team or another.
When asked by a member of the audience whether early voting – which is extensive and hugely popular in Iowa – benefited one party or another, Anderson and the others downplayed its partisan nature.
While it's true Democrats have long pursued early voting as a means of identifying supportive voters and getting them to the polls, Anderson acknowledged, Republicans are now adopting that same strategy.
The more significant effect of early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, Anderson and Ritchie said, is improving access in rural areas where polling places may be great distances away and winter weather can greatly impact ballot access on Election Day.
Some remote areas are even looking at early vote by mail as the sole means for voting.
"County auditors – and mostly Republican county auditors, by the way – are saying we should consider allowing for all vote-by-mail in these smaller precincts," Anderson said. "This is not a Republican-Democrat issue. This is a way to get more people to participate."
Anderson is running against Republican Paul Pate, a Cedar Rapids business owner who previously served as secretary of state in the 1990s.
Pate also has described a commitment to boosting voter participation. He also supports online voter registration and has proposed reviving voter-education programming for students that he ran when in office before.
Pate also supports photo ID requirements for voters, a policy issue on which there is sharp disagreement among Republicans, who call it a fraud-prevention measure, and Democrats who say it's aimed a disenfranchising poor and minority voters.