DES MOINES, Iowa – A federal judge on Friday refused to issue an injunction to stop the Iowa Straw Poll after a lawsuit was filed over the constitutionality of the voting process used at the event.
"In the absence of some legal violation, the Republican Party can run their (event) however they want," Judge James Gritzner said in his decision, which quickly followed the hearing because the straw poll was scheduled to start Saturday morning.
The lawsuit was filed late Thursday, and the judge said there wasn't adequate notice given to the defendants, who were served early Friday morning. The defendants included State Auditor David Vaudt, Story County Commissioner of Elections Mary Mosiman and Republican Party Chairman Ray Hoffmann. Representatives of the party attended the hearing, but the other defendants did not show.
The eight plaintiffs argued that the voting machines used at the straw poll, made by Diebold Election Systems, have fundamental weaknesses. They wanted the court to force the Republican Party of Iowa to change its methods of collecting and tallying the ballots so that the process was open to public and the votes were hand-counted.
The methods they suggested would have gotten rid of the machines, and included using clear boxes to collect the ballots, allowing each candidate an official vote counter and counting the ballots in public view.
"Everyone has a right to have their vote properly counted, this is a way to do it," said Robert Schulz, who is not a lawyer but argued the case at the hearing in federal court in Des Moines. He was listed as a plaintiff, and he leads a constitutional rights organization called "We the People."
Up to 40,000 people are expected to attend the straw poll, held at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The daylong event, the state Republican Party's biggest fundraiser, is considered a strong indication of the candidates' organizational strength and those who place well get a big boost in campaigning for this winter's caucuses.
At the straw poll, each voter marks a ballot, which is fed into a voting machines. Officials then tally the computers' results.
The machines, the plaintiffs argued, are the same type that California's secretary of state placed rigorous security conditions on last week.
The plaintiffs also suggested that because the Story County auditor and state auditor were helping with the event, the straw poll was government-sanctioned.
Party officials disputed that claim.
"Dave Vaudt and Mary Mosiman are not appearing in their official capacity ... they are just volunteering their time," said Ted Sporer, the chairman of the Polk County Republican Party.
Steve Roberts, a member of the National Republican Committee, said the party is paying for the machines.
The plaintiffs also argued that the results of the Iowa Straw Poll could effect the candidates' chances at raising money, and their ability to do well at Iowa caucuses and further down the election path.
"The vote totals for the candidates on the ballot at the Iowa Straw Poll affects the outcome of the Iowa caucus and the 2008 presidential race," the plaintiffs said in their complaint.
Plaintiff Troy Reha, of Des Moines, told the judge that "the one thing that takes the cake, so to speak, is this issue of not knowing if my, my vote, will be counted for the person that I vote for."
"Or will a machine or a computer write it off?" he added later.
Matt McDermott, who represented the Republican Party of Iowa, argued that casting a ballot in the straw poll is not a fundamental right under the Constitution as the plaintiffs were claiming.
"There is no statute or constitutional provision that allows anyone to participate in tomorrow's nonbinding straw poll," he said, adding that "to say otherwise, it would say this court could jump in an Elk's Lodge vote, or a Moose Lodge vote."
McDermott said Friday evening that the plaintiffs filed an interlocutory or immediate appeal of judge's decision with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. He said it appears they want to have a hearing via telephone on Saturday morning before the straw poll voting starts.