October 12, 2017

It could take just a couple of hundred votes, or less, for write-in candidates in a behind-the-scenes, surreptitious campaign to wrest control of Carroll’s City Hall under the cover of voter apathy.

With only one contested race in Carroll’s city elections — in the 3rd Ward between Councilman Clay Haley and Jean Ludwig — turnout on Nov. 7 promises to be low, raising the prospect that an organized effort, perhaps motivated by anger at the library-modernization project or some other score-settling reason, could be used to get candidates — who don’t have to stand for election publicly or make their intentions and agendas known — onto City Council seats through write-in voting.

A secret campaign of gathering write-in votes and surprising a complacent electorate, which assumes uncontested elections will result in the lone balloted candidates winning, is a concern, several citizens have said in phone calls to the Daily Times Herald.

“It has come to me just like it has probably come to everybody,” said Councilman LaVern Dirkx in an interview.

Dirkx said he has no evidence of any write-in campaigns.

“I have not heard any name at all,” he said.

The question came up Wednesday night during the Carroll Chamber of Commerce’s city candidate forum at Carroll High School.

None of the four candidates in the forum — Ludwig, Haley, Mayor Eric Jensen or Councilman Jerry Fleshner — said they had any evidence of a secret write-in campaign. But they strongly rebuked any person or group who would try such a political takeover in a small, rural Iowa town.

“I don’t know of any kind of project like that,” Ludwig said. “I would certainly hope it would not be a true problem to have.”

Jensen said he has heard rumors of such electioneering, but is not aware of any actual effort by a person or organization to run a write-in campaign without letting voters know the identities of candidates in advance.

“I think it would be rather distasteful to the citizens of the community to have individuals pursuing that,” he said.

Jensen said any candidates should make their agendas known, not jump out of the shadows with an ambush agenda.

“I abhor totalitarianism, and I don’t believe that that needs to be rearing its ugly head,” Jensen said.

Fleshner, who said people have the right to vote for candidates not on the ballot, something he’s done himself in past elections, said any write-in candidates should come forth as soon as possible.

“I don’t think we can do much about voter turnout,” Fleshner said. “That’s just something that we cannot change ourselves.”

Haley said a secret write-in campaign would be awful for Carroll.

“This community is better than that,” Haley said. “We deserve better than that.”

Dirkx said any candidate who would run on a single issue — say to slash the library plan — would soon be faced with the reality of a four-year term and hundreds of other policy matters and constituent concerns requiring time and attention.

Dr. Richard Collison, one of the fiercest critics of the current library project who also has strongly challenged current elected officials in advertisements in this newspaper and in other forums, said in an interview that he is not involved in any efforts to recruit or promote write-in candidates in this election cycle.

“The answer to your question is no, no and no,” Collison said.

Collison added, “I’m really disappointed someone would say that. It’s pure fiction.”

“I have no interest in this election whatsoever,” Collison said. “We need serious help in this town, so help me God.”