Cities are an integral part of the municipal election process. There are numerous requirements in the candidate qualifying and nominating process that city officials must follow to ensure the election is done properly.
Section 39.3 of the Code of Iowa requires candidates for public office to be an “eligible elector”, defined as a person who possesses all of the qualifications necessary to be a registered voter, whether or not the person is in fact so registered. Essentially, a person is eligible to run for office if they are at least 18 years old and reside in the city or ward they wish to represent. Ownership of property or having a post office box alone does not qualify someone as an eligible elector.
Additionally, the Iowa Constitution (Article II, Section 5) defines disqualified persons as “A person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote or a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector.” This includes convicted felons, unless their voting rights have been restored by the President or Governor.
There are four nomination processes that cities can choose from that provide eligible electors the path to becoming a candidate for city office:
- Primary Election (candidates file nomination petitions)
- Nomination by Convention (Code, Chapter 44)
- Nomination by Petition (Code, Chapter 45)
- Runoff Election (candidates file nomination petitions)
If a city does not select a process by 90 days before the city election, they are required to use the primary election process. As described in Chapter 376 of the Code, the primary election process requires candidates to file a nomination petition with the county commissioner of elections that has signatures of at least 2 percent of the number of voters to fill the same office at the last election, but not less than 10 signatures. Section 376.9 allows cities to use the run-off election process, which follow the same nomination petition requirements as primary elections.
Cities that employ the nomination by convention process under Chapter 44 require candidates to be nominated at a non-partisan convention that is attended by at least 10 eligible electors, including at least one from one-half of the voting precincts.
Chapter 45 allows candidates to be nominated by petition with signature requirements as detailed below:
- Population 3,500 and larger: Not less than 25
- Population 100-3,499: Not less than 10
- Population less than 100: Not less than 5
The nomination petition must include the signature of the petitioners, a statement of their place of residence and the date upon which they signed the petition. If the candidate is seeking election from a ward, the individuals signing the petition must be residents of the ward at the time of signature.
The nomination petition must also include an Affidavit of Candidacy stating the individual’s name, residence and that the individual is eligible for the office and if elected, the individual will qualify for office. The affidavit also requires the candidate to state that they are aware that they are disqualified from holding office if they have been convicted of a felony or infamous crime and their rights have not been restored by the Governor of Iowa or the President. The Iowa State Commissioner of Elections provides both the Affidavit of Candidacy and Nomination Petition forms.
When and Where to File Nomination Papers
Legislation approved in 2014 removed the requirement for nomination papers to be filed with the city clerk’s office. Nomination papers must now be filed with the county auditor. Additional legislation adopted in 2016 permits a county election commissioner (typically the county auditor) to designate a city clerk to receive nomination papers for city offices. The office of a city clerk that has been designated to receive nomination papers must remain open until 5 p.m. on the final day for filing papers.
The filing period differs by the type of nomination process the city uses. Candidates in cities with primary elections may begin filing nomination papers 85 days before the regular city election and the deadline is 5 p.m. on the 68th day before the election. For all other election processes, the filing period begins 71 days before the election, and the period ends at 5 p.m. the 47th day before the election. The county auditor’s office is required to remain open until 5 p.m. on the nomination filing deadline.
The City’s Role in the Election Process
City clerks are required to deliver to the county auditor any public measures that are to be placed on the ballot by 5 p.m. on the last day of the candidate filing period for the respective nomination processes. The city clerk’s office must also receive election contest statements after the election.
The city clerk may also be called upon to answer questions concerning the nomination process and often keeps copies of the required forms in the event a potential candidate stops by city hall. However, objections to a candidate’s nomination papers or eligibility can only be filed with the county auditor.
Election and Term
City elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in odd-numbered years. The term of office begins and ends on the first day in January that is not a Sunday or a legal holiday, unless the election was done to fill a vacancy that was previously filled by appointment. In this case, the successful candidate qualifies for office as soon as the election results are canvassed by the county. Terms of office are for two years unless a different term is established by city charter or ordinance. The terms of elective office may be changed from two to four years by petition and subsequent election.
Campaign Rules to Know
There are a number of campaign rules that candidates for any office should know before running. All candidates for elected office need to comply with campaign finance disclosure law covered in Code of Iowa, Chapter 68A. In addition, incumbents need to remember that in their current position with city government they must not use city resources for political purposes.
Campaigning requires detailed financial record keeping and reporting. A candidate for city office has to form a committee, file a Statement of Organization (DR-1) and begin filing reports with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board (IECDB) within 10 days once campaign expenditures, contributions or debt incurred surpasses $1,000. The candidate must deposit all contributions in an account maintained by the committee within seven days of receipt. The candidate is then responsible for filing campaign disclosure reports (DR-2 and appropriate schedules) on or before the due dates in Code Section 68A.402 (3). It is important to file on or before the due dates as civil and criminal penalties may be imposed for late-filed reports. To be considered timely, the reports must be filed in the IECDB office by 4:30 p.m. on the day of the due date.
Candidates are required to print an attribution statement (“paid for by…”) on political advertising such as billboards, brochures, Web sites and posters. The statement needs to include the official name of the committee. If a committee does not pay for advertising the attribution statement must be the full name and complete mailing address of the candidate or person paying for the advertising. The attribution must be on the advertising even if the candidate has not crossed the $1,000 threshold. To use the shorter attribution, the candidate must file Form DR-SFA with the IECDB. Yard signs placed in a residential yard that are 32 square feet or less are exempt. Also, campaign signs cannot be placed on corporate property or any governmental property, including the public right-of-way between the sidewalk and street.
Section 68A.505 prohibits the use of public resources for political purposes. Incumbents must keep this prohibition in mind as they campaign for re-election. Remember, “political purpose” does not only refer to election of officers, it applies to any issue to be put before the voters, including referendums for bond issues or local option sales tax elections. There are a variety of activities in which city officials may engage that could place them in violation of this law. Here a few of those activities:
- Using city intraoffice and interoffice mail boxes to advocate for (or against) a candidate or ballot issue.
- Printing or publishing a city newsletter which urges citizens to vote for (or against) a candidate or ballot issue.
- Including messages of advocacy with utility bills, urging citizens to vote for (or against) a candidate or ballot issue.
- Using city email, Web site or stationary to advocate for (or against) a candidate or ballot issue.