Iowa Secretary of State

Iowa Press | Episode
Sep 16, 2022 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press our guests are candidates for Iowa secretary of state Joel Miller (D - Cedar Rapids) and Paul Pate (R - Cedar Rapids), incumbent secretary of state.

Both candidates campaigning for office answer questions from reporters and discuss their platforms, concerns and future plans. Moderator Kay Henderson is joined by Iowa political reporters at the Iowa Press table.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.


Two longtime election officials who clashed in recent years over election law are now running against one another for Iowa Secretary of State. Incumbent republican Paul Pate and democratic challenger Joel Miller are our guests on this edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at


For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, September 16th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson. 


Henderson: Our guests today are running to be Iowa's Secretary of State for the next four years. That is Iowa's top election official. Republican Paul Pate is the incumbent. He has served in the Iowa legislature, he also is the former Mayor of Cedar Rapids. He served one term as Secretary of State in the 1990s. He was re-elected to the post in 2014 and he is seeking a fourth term this year. Democrat Joel Miller is his opponent. He is a military veteran. He was elected to the Robins City Council and then elected as Mayor of Robins. He has been Linn County Auditor since 2007. Gentlemen, welcome to this edition of Iowa Press.

Miller: Thank you.

Pate: Pleasure to be here.

Henderson: Joining the conversation are Brianne Pfannenstiel of the Des Moines Register and Erin Murphy of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Murphy: Paul Pate, as Kay said, you're seeking a fourth term here as Secretary of State. What is still on your to-do list? And what should Iowans expect of you that you have not yet accomplished in your terms in office?

Pate: Well, the battle still continues on the misinformation and disinformation that is going on. It wasn't that long ago we were dealing with cyber and that has not gone away. But we now are shifting to a very fine line of how do we honor the First Amendment and still make sure people are getting the most accurate information on the integrity of our elections.

Murphy: And Joel Miller, Iowa has secure elections. Turnout has been up, record setting in some cases. Why in your argument do we need a change in this office?

Miller: Well, we need to make voting easier. It became harder after the 2021 election laws were passed and that was an attack upon vote by mail and early voting. It cut the periods in half from what they were in 2016. It also moved the deadline to request an absentee ballot for the three days before an election in 2016 to 15 days before an election now and voters are getting caught up in that. And in the case of Linn County, 101 people missed that deadline and 51 didn't vote. And that happened across the state. And so, things changed and people are just thinking the government doesn't care and doesn't really want them to vote and they didn't vote.

Pfannenstiel: Paul Pate, there are republican Secretary of State candidates running around the country on the platform that they would not have certified the presidential results in 2020. What do you say to election deniers?

Pate: Well, first I would remind people as the Secretary of State you don't get to wear a team jersey, you're the referee. So you follow the laws and the rules that you have on the books. And when you look at the last presidential election, if we follow the laws on the books like we did here in Iowa then we have a legitimate winner and we need to recognize that. And I would hope my colleagues in other states would follow suit with that.

Henderson: You were the head of the National Association of Secretaries of State. When you were discussing that among your colleagues, did you share that message with those among them who had the opposite view?

Pate: Most certainly, I'm not shy about it. Again, there are those who want to play politics whether they're a republican or a democrat and this is a position you have to be very sensitive to that. I'm the commissioner of elections, not the commissioner of politics, so you really have to stay focused and deliver on what the laws are in your state.

Pfannenstiel: Do you commit to certifying the results of the 2024 presidential election here in Iowa?

Pate: Most certainly. And that's the way it should be, states run elections and as they certify their state that should be the official results.

Henderson: Joel Miller, do you want to weigh in on this?

Miller: Yes, I do. I think that the Secretary of State not only has the obligation to make sure the elections are secure but also we have election deniers out there. Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Paul Pate is associated with those people. And you endorsed those people in 2007, Rudy Giuliani for President. You had Donald Trump come to a fundraiser for you in 2015. And you've done nothing to disavow what has been said, what they have been saying. And there is a direct line from those people to Mike Lindell to Dr. Doug Frank who came to Buchanan County about a month ago and started basically conspiracy theories that result in voter challenges across this state including 119 in my county that I have to hold hearings on next Monday.

Henderson: Paul Pate?

Pate: I think Mr. Miller needs to focus a little more on the message I put out every day. As I visit with groups and individuals I'm very clear that these are the facts about Iowa's elections and these folks out there passing around disinformation, misinformation are wrong. And I find it humorous about Giuliani. I was Mayor of Cedar Rapids when Giuliani ran for President and he was a great Mayor for New York and that is why I supported him.

Murphy: We want to ask this of both of you, Paul Pate we'll start with you. There is a debate happening out there about what government authority should have the final say in certifying election results and there is even a case going before the Supreme Court where attorneys will argue that state legislators should have final say and even be independent of potential judicial review of those. Do you think that is a good argument? Or is it fairly constructed? Who should have final say over certifying election results?

Pate: I respect the legislative process. They get to write the laws. My job is to administer those laws. On a personal level, I happen to think the process we have right now is working very well. I am concerned when I see that the Democratic Party on the national level particularly wants to nationalize elections, they want to take it away from the states and operate from there. And we saw that in the Miller-Meeks campaign when Speaker Pelosi was going to come in and name who the winner was. Fortunately she didn't in the end. Those kind of things need to be pushed back. I want Iowans to decide who Iowans are electing.

Murphy: Joel Miller?

Miller: Well, the Miller-Meeks case was decided, she went to Congress because there was an issue with the timeliness of doing a recount. And by the way, we had three different methods of recount used in that election. We had a hand count, we had a hand count machine count and we had a machine count. And that could have been corrected. And people knew about that variation in the recount process and I don't believe you said anything about that and that's unfortunate. And that was allowed to go through the legislature. We went through a legislative session this year and that wasn't corrected and it should have been corrected because guess what, we've got an election right around the corner, again, and we could have another close election somewhere and we'd have counties doing the recounts differently.

Murphy: What would you have liked to have seen in the case of do you want a uniform statewide recount law?

Miller: That should be uniform and you should allocate the people that do the recounts by population and not by county and by the number of voters that got cast, not by what the population of that particular county is because right now the uniformity of the law is three people per county, three people on the recount board. And some of these counties are pretty big. For example, mine with 161,000 voters. If you had to do a countywide recount you can't expect three people to get that done. And that is what the challenge was for the Miller-Meeks campaign.

Murphy: Paul Pate, what would you like to see on this? And why didn't your office propose legislation this past session?

Pate: Well, we have shared proposals with the legislature and there's only so much they're going to put on their plate. I would remind my opponent that I am not a legislator but I do help try to determine and set priorities and I do share those priorities with the legislature. The key thing right now is we had a recount, 25 counties, and they all got it done right. At the end of the day we had a certified election and we named a winner. I think that's the way it should be but it was done by Iowans and not as the democrats want to do on a national level where the Congress would get to vote on who our congressperson is.

Murphy: And speaking of that, I also wanted to ask you about there is legislation called the Electoral Count Act that has been proposed at the federal level that would limit state legislatures' ability to challenge election result certification and also kind of clarify that the Vice President's role is more ceremonial than anything in that as a response to what happened on January 6th of 2021. We'll ask each of you, but again start with Paul Pate. Do you think that federal legislation is a good idea or not?

Pate: Well, I think Congress' role is always to review laws and processes. I just want to make sure as they're doing it they take a deep breath and aren't just responding to a particular political situation that might have happened. But again, the system has worked pretty darn well. I think that it can continue that way. And I would respect if it stayed the way it is for right now.

Murphy: But that bill specifically?

Pate: I'm not an expert on the bill. I'll be very candid, I'm not an expert on the bill.

Murphy: Okay, Joel Miller?

Miller: Well, I'm not an expert on the bill either but it looks like it has bipartisan support and it looks like it's going to clarify what the role of the Vice President is and that is not to allow one person to veto the entire results of an election or install alternate electors that haven't been certified by the state. So I think it's headed in the right direction. What the final bill will look like is of course subject to change and we'll see what happens. But it looks like it's headed in the right direction and it needs to be clarified before the next presidential election.

Pfannenstiel: Moving on to the conduct of elections, this year absentee ballots need to be physically returned to county auditors by Election Day, not just postmarked by that date as they had been in the past. So what do you say, Paul Pate, to county auditors who are frustrated at the change to voters who in the primary election didn't have their ballots counted?

Pate: Well, I think we have deadlines in our lives. Everything we do is a deadline and this is no different, there is a deadline. That means we as election officials, the county auditor's responsibility and my office is assisting in that is educating the public, making sure they know what has to be done to be successful as voters, putting that public awareness out there all the time. And we have elections, not just only in November, we have them in other periods, we just had them last Tuesday so we need to make sure we're continuing to educate them so they can be successful. Iowans get it. They're a smart bunch. And I have a lot of confidence in them if we give them the information on a timely basis and that's what we have to keep doing.

Pfannenstiel: Joel Miller, the argument that there does need to be some kind of deadline, what would you set the deadline at? And how would you communicate that to voters?

Miller: Well, there is a deadline out there but what is beyond the voters' control is the delivery of mail. And by my testing it appears that the delivery of mail in the state is twice what it was in November 2020. So we not only shortened the voting time from 40 days in 2016 to 29 in 2017 to 20 now, but we also can't send the ballots out until that 20th day, the absentee ballots that have been requested beforehand. So in some places in the state it takes six business days one way for a letter to get there and six business days to get back. If there's any procrastination or any delay in the mail system like there was in Clinton County where 46 absentee ballots were stuck in the mail system in Moline, Illinois and those ballots did not get counted when there was a race separated by 7 votes, then we have a problem here. And the problem is that the length of time has been shortened and there's deadlines in there that have closed the windows on vote by mail and forcing people to not trust vote by mail because of the postal system delivery times.

Murphy: When that law, advocates of that law would tell us that it would be frustrating to still be waiting on election results for up to a week after Election Day and not knowing potentially the outcome of some elections, what is your response to that? And why is it not fair to expect ballots to be into the elections office by Election Day?

Miller: Well, it's not fair just from the standpoint of military and overseas voters do get that extra week to get their ballots in. I was a military vet --

Murphy: Well, it's different mailing something from overseas versus something from --

Miller: Well, I understand. But we just had implemented intelligent barcodes not too many years before that when people were using that and just as I said in Clinton County where those ballots didn't get counted because they were postmarked under their own deadline and they would have been counted before and now we have this artificial deadline that is disenfranchising people not only in Clinton County but across the state.

Henderson: Secretary Pate, do you think it is disenfranchising voters?

Pate: I think we worked through the process in a sense that we've offered them all kinds of options of how to vote. They can vote in-person, they can vote at the courthouse, they have satellite voting options and if they choose to use the voting by mail they have to recognize there is going to be a time lapse issue there. That is why we have a tracking system where people can go online and look through our office and identify when their requests got to the courthouse for a ballot, when the ballot got mailed out and when the county auditor got it back in their possession so they can double check to see did they get my vote because if they didn't they still have time to come down and vote in-person if that is something they wish to do. We've got to put a safety net there of course. But I think the legislature spoke very clearly on how they want it approached. My job is to administer the law.

Henderson: Joel Miller, you mentioned the 40 day period of early voting that has been shortened. Legislators who argued that it should be shortened said that an Iowan who casts their ballot early in that 40 days could learn something in October about one of the candidates for which they voted and want to change their vote and be unable to do so. What is your response to that?

Miller: My response is did they produce any people that said that? Was there really any evidence to change that law? And was there any evidence to shorten the deadlines anywhere along the line? There was nothing wrong with the vote by mail process in 2016 nor with the 29 day process. People were not complaining about missing deadlines and being disenfranchised during those periods of time and there was no significant fraud of any kind. And when I'm saying you have 1.7 million voters, if you had one or two people that did something wrong that's not a reason to change the law. These laws were changed based upon what was happening in other states, not in the state of Iowa. There is really no evidence to support what the legislature did with changing the laws in this state. We have good elections, secure elections when we had 40 days of voting, there's no reason that it got shortened to 20 days.

Henderson: Paul Pate, what was the evidence for shortening the period?

Pate: I'm not aware of what the evidence might have been. I just would point out that we are still one of the better states in the country when it comes to the advance time to be voting. We're talking almost 500 hours we're giving people to vote. You can go to the moon and back several times. You can watch several seasons of the Iowa/Iowa State football games with the time window we're giving people to vote. People have to take some responsibility when we're talking about voting. That's why it's our job as election commissioners to give them that information to be successful, letting them know there is a deadline and yes, if we have to caution them and say the mail does take some time. If you're going to do it via mail you need to allow yourself for that. But I think a lot of what the legislature was doing was responding to what the voters asked for. They want to know who the winner is on Election Night pure and simple. I'm not going to debate that if you believe it or not. They want to know on Election Night. And we're dealing with a real challenging time right now. We have to make sure people have confidence in the process and that we are giving as much transparency into the process as well. And sometimes the straggling of votes coming in after Election Night can cause people some serious concerns.

Murphy: And the hard deadline explains that. But why was the early voting window, why did that need to be shortened?

Pate: Again, that was a policy decision. The legislature said I can assume a lot of things, you can too. I know as a candidate I can tell you that it makes it very expensive because now you don't have Election Day just on one day, you have Election Day for whatever that period is, 20 days or 40 days, you have to put it out there and that is very challenging for a lot of candidates. And it does raise the cost of politicking, if you will, and that is something people have been somewhat pushing back on for some time.

Pfannenstiel: Paul Pate, the tenor around elections, the debate about all of this that we're having right now has becoming really fraught and it has put some impediments in states to finding poll workers. Are you finding that? And how are you kind of trying to combat that to alleviate concerns?

Pate: Well, we think it's great, poll workers are our secret weapon, I call them the unsung heroes of our elections, your friends and neighbors, the people you go to church with, that is my bottom line when you want to talk about the integrity of an election is having those folks out there. We put a lot of effort into recruiting poll workers, we've been doing it for some time, we have identified more than 10,000 plus people who have an interest in being a poll worker. We share those names with the county auditors. In fact, I just had an auditor call me yesterday saying, please stop advertising in our county because we've got enough poll workers right now.

Pfannenstiel: Are you concerned about harassment of poll workers though as this debate kind of increases?

Pate: We should always be concerned about the protection of our poll workers and the people coming to vote. And we work very closely with counties to make sure they have plans in place of how to respond to those kinds of situations whether it be a tornado, whether it be a fire, whether it be a civil unrest. We need to be prepared for that and I think the county auditors do a good job on that front.

Pfannenstiel: Joel Miller, how do you recruit people to do this job that can become more difficult now in the political climate that we have?

Miller: We have plenty of poll workers in Linn County. We just checked in with where we're at. But things could change in the next eight weeks if people feel threatened. But I would like to address a couple of other things. I've heard Mr. Pate say that we're not legislators, we just administrate the law. But Mr. Pate didn't register on the bill in 2021 at all, not even for or against. Yet in 2017 he was very proud to say that he's for voter ID and registered on those bills. Why the absence of -- why the lack of interest in the 2021 election laws that had the most impact on us? And that is a problem. And you further say that we have the third greatest election system in the United States. Then why not disavow the election deniers? You're not disavowing them and so what's happening is all 99 county auditors are having to disavow them individually instead of the chief election administrator in the state disavowing these election deniers. That's hurtful to our third place in the United States of being the best run elections when we're not saying anything to the election deniers, we're not disavowing that.

Pate: Well, unfortunately my opponent here doesn't understand that we follow the laws because he has clearly not done that in his role as auditor. I would tell you that I have spoken out on a regular basis as recently as yesterday when my bipartisan working group of auditors put out a statement from me taking to task these individuals who are putting out this misinformation. I do it every single day. We've been putting out mis-facts on a regular basis, which you've been using as well, denying these people of what they're saying when they're inaccurate and we'll keep doing just that. We have to stay very clear on giving people the idea of what our elections are about, the integrity of our elections so they have confidence and will turn out on Election Day.

Henderson: You mentioned that he is not following the law. What are you talking about?

Pate: I'm referring to the last election cycle where he mailed out absentee ballot request forms with the confidential pin numbers on it and he was told it was not legal, he did it anyway and he was taken to court and the judge there said very clearly you broke the law. And he had spent thousands and thousands of dollars of Linn County taxpayer dollars to now fix the problem that he knew going into he shouldn't have done.

Henderson: Joel Miller?

Miller: Well, if we're going to talk about laws being broken let's talk about the ethics violations that you've had in your office. Let's talk about your desire to trademark trade names in your office that were created through tax dollars in your office. And you also sent out absentee ballot request forms there. And I also asked you before I sent them out did you have any comment on that and your office refused to respond. So you could have done something and you in fact did send out absentee ballot request forms in the primary and as well as the general election. And you also decided to not be involved in that lawsuit but to feed the information, as much information as you could to the parties suing me.

Pate: Well, since you're not an attorney you wouldn't know that I didn't have position to sue. That was a quirk in the law, the campaigns had to do it. So let's make sure we understand the way the process works. And when I sent out absentee ballot forms I did not put on confidential information that shouldn’t have been done. You did do that and I had the blessing of the legislature because we asked them to do that as well. Now, I'm just pointing out that we need to follow the laws of the land. We don't get to interpret and do what we want when we want.

Murphy: Gentlemen, I want to move on because we have just a couple of minutes left and voter ID has been mentioned a couple of times here. So Joel Miller, in roughly a minute, since that has been implemented turnout has not yet been impacted in Iowa. Why do you still feel that voter ID, requiring voters to show identification when they vote, is a bad thing?

Miller: I didn't say that.

Murphy: So you do not think --

Miller: I'm for voter ID.

Murphy: Okay, I apologize.

Miller: It has not proven problematic in people's access to the ballot box. I am for voter ID.

Murphy: Paul Pate, you shook your head there.

Pate: Johnny-come-lately because he opposed it, he was there at the hearings in Des Moines opposing it, he was on record opposing it and nothing has changed since that law was written for him to see a technical difference. What has happened is we've delivered on it just as we said it would be delivered on, that it did not disenfranchise anybody and nobody had any standing at all to say different. And I welcome you to the cause, Mr. Miller, but you were not there when we crusaded for this and when we tried to get it passed.

Henderson: Joel Miller?

Miller: I am administering the elections unlike Paul Pate who had never administered a local election, never administered a local election and so I see firsthand the impact of these laws including voter ID. And it's nice to brag about Iowa's turnout in the elections, that we set these records. How about when you're bragging about 25% turnout, that means that 75% of the registered voters did not vote. That means another 10% of the state is not, that it's eligible to register to vote and is not participating in our elections. That's wrong too. Let's work on getting those people engaged in the process.

Henderson: Paul Pate?

Pate: Let's be clear about this. We're one of the best states in the country when it comes to voter participation and integrity. We do them both. There's a fine line there. You can have both, you can't do it with just one and I worked very hard to get that done. And administering elections, well I oversee all of the elections for the state of Iowa. I'm the only Secretary of State who is certified on a national level for elections. And I work very closely with the auditors to make sure we get the job done.

Henderson: And my job here is to say we are out of time. I apologize. More conversation could be had. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Iowa Press.

Miller: Thank you.

Henderson: You can watch Iowa Press anytime online at For everyone here at the network, I'm Kay Henderson, thanks for watching.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at