Warren County Special Election Approved After Tense Meeting

Photo by Starting Line staff

By Ty Rushing

June 30, 2023

There will be a special election in Warren County for the county auditor seat.

“I say we have an election,” said interim county auditor David Whipple, whose appointment was the reason for Friday’s public hearing.

Residents showed up in droves to the Warren County Administration Building in Indianola to find out how a challenge to the petition that triggered the special election would play out, which was conducted in hopes of ousting Whipple. 

Whipple was appointed interim auditor on June 6, but has come under intense scrutiny for sharing conspiracy theories that assert the 9/11 attacks were fake, the 2020 election was fraudulent, and QAnon material.

In Iowa, county auditors oversee elections in their respective counties, and why Whipple’s appointment was troubling for many.

During the hearing, people who were opposed to Whipple’s appointment were not shy about letting him know how they felt including one person in the crowd who yelled out “he’s an election denier.” On more than one occasion, County Attorney Douglas Eichholz told the crowd to calm down and at one point told them “your right to be disrespectful is long gone.”

The basis for Friday’s public hearing was the Warren County GOP challenging the legitimacy of more than 1,000 signatures on the petition that triggered the special election.

According to the Indianola Advocate, Warren County Republicans alleged 956 of the signatures filed last week by local Democrats were illegible, incomplete or had some other deficiency.

However, Warren County Attorney Douglas Eichholz, county treasurer Julie Daughtery, and Whipple, who made up the commission that decided on the matter, firmly disagreed with that reasoning.

“I’m not going to disqualify somebody because I can’t read their signature,” Eichholz said. “We are not going to get into signature games as we go through elections if I have anything to say about that, and I would ask that everybody would remember that. The whole point of us being here today is the process and the processes worked; everybody should be happy about that.”

Despite calls for Whipple to recuse himself from the matter, he chose to participate. Eichholz said that Iowa law would require Whipple to recuse himself if he had been elected, but since he was appointed it was technically his decision.

“The decision I made to stay on this panel, I didn’t take lightly and I thought about it quite a bit,” Whipple said, noting he could have asked another elected county official to step in. “I got to thinking about the letter of the law here and it says, ‘I shall be one of those members.’ I’m going to the auditor of this county, the commissioner of elections, and I need you to trust that I’m going to make decisions with integrity.”

Whipple’s conspiratorial social media posts didn’t come to light until after he was appointed, but they served as the impetus for residents to want a special election for his interim seat.

In 14 days, residents gathered more than 3,400 signatures—about 1,000 more than they needed and in a county of about 53,000 people—to trigger a special election for the remainder of the auditor’s terms.

The previous county auditor Tracy Vanderlinden resigned in May and her term expires on Dec. 31, 2024. She had recommended deputy auditor Kim Sheets to replace her, but the Warren County Board of Supervisors chose to go with Whipple. The three-person board and Whipple are all Republicans and Vanderlinden and Sheets are Democrats.

Once Whipple got into office, he placed Sheets, who might be his challenger in either this special election or the 2024 race, on administrative leave. He said the move was done to prevent any distractions in the office.

Now the two may face off if both are chosen by their respective parties’ central committees to be the nominee for the special election, which this election commission suggested be held on Aug. 29.

Warren County Democrats Chair Jim Culbert, who attended the public hearing, welcomed Friday’s outcome.

“I’m very pleased,” he said. “Anytime that we allow the voters to vote, let them have their say, it’s a win for democracy and a win for Iowa.”

 

by Ty Rushing
06/30/23

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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