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Students face ballot challenges in battleground district
EXCLUSIVE: Republican attorneys challenged the absentee ballots of 50 Grinnell College students today, an act that could have an impact on the battle for control of the Iowa House of Representatives.
The students in question reside in Iowa House District 75, where a heated campaign is being waged between incumbent Democrat Eric Palmer and Republican Danny Carroll.
In 2004, the same matchup was decided by a little more than 300 votes — in Carroll’s favor. Palmer won by a slightly larger margin in their 2006 rematch.
Grinnell students have a long history of supporting Democratic candidates. The elimination of 50 votes could tip the balance of the election to Carroll.
Poweshiek County Auditor Diana Dawley said the ballots were challenged on the grounds that the students do not reside at the address they listed when they registered to vote.
The students registered to vote at 1115 8th Ave., which is the address on campus where they receive mail. However, it is not the physical address of their dormitories, Dawley said, which brought on the challenges.
The Grinnell College Campus Democrats claimed in an online posting that students who voted early at satellite voting stations were told by Poweshiek County elections officials to register in that way because the inability of students to receive mail at their physical address made it difficult to produce proof of residency.
Dawley said a hearing on the challenged ballots would be held Nov. 6 at noon, at which time it will be determined whether the votes count. The auditor’s office will send out notices to the affected voters so that they can be present at the hearing.
Each of the ballot challenges were made individually in accordance with new Iowa election laws that make it illegal to issue a group or “blanket” challenge.
Dawley, a Democrat, then referred all questions to Poweshiek County Attorney Mike Mahaffey. The receptionist at Mahaffey’s law office in Montezuma said he would be unavailable until Tuesday morning. Mahaffey is a former Republican candidate for Congress.
Carroll said he was unaware of the challenges until told about it by the Iowa Independent, but that his only concern is that the law is obeyed.
“When it comes to voting, I just want everyone to follow the law,” he said.
In regards to the students claim that they received their instructions about which address to use for voter registration from county officials, Carroll said that’s something that would have to be resolved by the auditor’s office and would have nothing to do with his campaign.
Palmer’s campaign did not wish to comment on this story.
The presidential campaign of Democrat Barack Obama has targeted universities around the state in a massive get out the vote effort. The campaign’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Lee, said that the students in question are clearly eligible to vote and the campaign is “confident the matter will get resolved in a timely fashion.”
In other counties with larger student populations, such as Story and Johnson counties, there have been no reports of major ballot challenge efforts.