Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny/Grimes) has his voter registration officially challenged and a hearing will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Polk County Election Office in Des Moines. The dispute stems from evidence showing Whitver most likely doesn’t live in his Grimes apartment, which is in the Iowa Senate district for which he was running this year.
Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald told Whitver in a letter dated November 10 that his registration was being challenged by county elector Ann Gale.
Under the Iowa Code, Gale and Whitver or their respective representatives will each present evidence during the hearing, and Fitzgerald, in his capacity as Electoral Commissioner, will decide whether to dismiss the challenge or nullify Whitver’s voter registration. Regardless of the outcome, both sides have an opportunity to appeal to the district court.
Fitzgerald’s letter also provides evidence as to why Gale does not believe that Whitver lives in the home where he is registered as a voter and which is listed as his primary residence in a candidate affidavit filed with the Secretary of State’s list of candidates for the general election submitted by Iowa.
Whitver was a longtime senator for the Ankeny-centric Senate district, but “moved” to an apartment in Grimes to run for the Senate District 23 seat after redeploying part of his former district.
Rep. Mike Bousselot (R-Ankeny) was successful in his attempt to win Whitver’s former seat during the November 8 election when he defeated Todd Brady (D-Ankeny).
Whitver’s residency has been in question since an Oct. 26 report by Cedar Rapids TV station KCRG showed that water use at Whitver’s Grimes apartment — which he and his wife Rachel bought nearly two years before the redeployment — was minimal.
In her challenge, Gale wrote that on October 9, a volunteer for Brady’s campaign knocked on the door of the Whitvers’ home in Ankeny and spoke to Rachel Whitver.
During the call, Rachel Whitver confirmed that she still lives with her family in Ankeny and is registered to vote there, according to an affidavit from the volunteer who spoke to her.
Gale’s challenge also notes that all of Jack and Rachel Whitver’s social media accounts still list Ankeny as their address; Three of his business interests are registered at the Ankeny address, and he is still listed as an Ankeny resident in online biographies published on websites for the Iowa Senate Republicans and a law firm where Whitver works.
The challenge also included media reports showing the water bills for the Grimes’ apartment, an excerpt from a KCCI story in which a reporter found packages on the doorstep of the Ankeny home addressed to Jack Whitver when he was trying to get him to contact there.
The Whitver family consists of Jack, Rachel, and their three children, and their Ankeny home consists of four bedrooms and 2,416 square feet of “living space,” according to Polk County property records. The Grimes’ apartment that Jack Whitver claims is his three-bedroom residence with 1,208 square feet of living space, which is only slightly larger than the garage at his home in Ankeny.
Whitver’s situation is similar to a situation in January 2020 involving Jeremy Taylor of Sioux City, a Woodbury County supervisor and former Republican congressional candidate.
Taylor’s voter registration was challenged by a voter who successfully argued that Taylor did not reside at the address he used to maintain his board position. The matter was overseen by Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill
“There’s a lot of things to consider because residency is a very tricky thing,” Gill said, recalling the situation at Taylor. “There are different types of situations in code that allow you to do this.”
According to Gill, a person in Iowa can in principle leave their place of residence for as long as they declare that they have a clear intention to return. He also said that these types of situations are so rare here that there is very little existing case law that sets a precedent.
“So that’s what Jeremy Taylor was counting on, but when it came down to it, I had to go with my gut about what the intent of the law was,” Gil said.
“It was pretty obvious that he and his family had moved out of the county and that he kept a piece of property that he had previously used as a rental property, but he left it empty and then put his voter registration on it when they moved.”
Gill ruled that Taylor’s voter registration at the address he provided was invalid. Taylor resigned from the board; however, he would win a four-year term on the board in the fall while running for election in his proper district.
According to Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa, if the challenge to Whitver’s voter registration is successful, the commissioner of elections — in this case, Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald — can delete his voter registration. If Whitver’s registration at the hearing is revoked, he could appeal again to the district court.
“It is possible that the hearing could indicate that you have previously been ineligible to vote and committed registration fraud under Code 39A, but there is nothing that automatically results from canceled voter registration as a result of a challenge,” Muller said.
Muller was also asked what happens when a person wins an elected office with the address of a place where they are registered to vote, but it is later proven that the candidate does not actually live there.
“It depends,” he said. “If it is for the legislature, the legislature is the judge of its members’ qualifications under the Constitution.”
In Jack Whitver’s case, as Senate Majority Leader, he would determine whether or not he met the criteria for panel membership. Muller also explained other possible outcomes.
“If it’s a different office, someone could file what’s called a ‘writ quo warranto,’ arguing that they actually have a right to the office,” Muller said. “It’s possible you could file a brief for members of the legislature, but I’m not that familiar with that.
“Finally, you may have a so-called ‘laughing’ problem making the claim too late. A post-election challenge looks different than a pre-election challenge. There are many contingencies here, depending on the case.”
According to the letter Fitzgerald delivered to Jack Whitver, Ann Gale filed her voter registration challenge on November 5 — three days before the November 8 election in which Whitver defeated longtime Grimes resident Matt Pries.
If an individual in Iowa provides false information on their voter registration form, they “can be convicted of perjury and fined up to $10,245 and/or imprisoned for up to five years.”
by Ty Rushing
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