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Clear Lake council campaign dust-up: Candidate Bennett Smith says new candidate Ben Smith should not be on ballot

“Bennett Smith” versus “Ben Smith” AKA Jack L. Smith. What will the Clear Lake mayor and council decide?

CLEAR LAKE – A man named Jack Smith has declared he is a candidate for Clear Lake city council, but wants to be on the ballot as Ben Smith – and a candidate who was already on the ballot – Bennett Smith – has filed a complaint, putting elected leaders in the position of deciding who’s right.

Bennett Smith declared weeks ago that he is a candidate for Second Ward city council in Clear Lake. He has been campaigning and working to oust incumbent councilman Tony Nelson, who also declared he is running for re-election. NIT has learned that Clear Lake resident Jack Leroy Smith has turned in nomination petitions and an Affidavit of Candidacy that was submitted under the name of “Ben Smith” to run for council in Second Ward.  However, he signed the affidavit of candidacy as “Jack Leroy Smith” and also owns property in Clear Lake under that name.

Today, Bennett Smith filed a complaint with the Cerro Gordo county auditor’s office regarding Jack Leroy Smith’s request to use “Ben Smith” on the ballot and the potential confusion he feels it will cause to voters.

Bennett Smith

“I have submitted a formal challenge to the listing of a candidate’s name (“Ben” Smith) on the ballot in its current form for the Second Ward city council seat in Clear Lake that is not the apparent legal name of the candidate and is very similar to my own,” Bennett Smith said in a statement. “I have attached my letter of challenge that I turned in to the Cerro Gordo County Auditor on Monday, September 25th.”

That statement reads:

Dear Mr. Kline,

I would like to formally request a challenge to the presence of a name on the ballot for the Second Ward city council seat in Clear Lake, IA for this upcoming fall election in its current form. Jack Leroy Smith has turned in nomination petitions and an Affidavit of Candidacy that was submitted under the name of “Ben” Smith. While I recognize that family and friends of Jack Smith may refer to him as “Ben” I believe that if his legal name is Jack Smith, then that would be the appropriate name to list on the ballot. Listing his name as “Ben” on the ballot will cause unnecessary confusion for voters who may not know each of us personally given that my name (and legal name) is “Bennett” Smith, and will create an undue burden on voters to correctly identify and make a fully informed choice for a candidate in the Second Ward of Clear Lake.

According to a post on September 3rd, 11:00 p.m. on his campaign Facebook page, Jack Smith (aka “Ben” Smith) was fully aware of my candidacy for the Clear Lake Second Ward city council seat (which was formally announced on August 16th) and the fact that my name was Bennett Smith. He stated, “I am running for Clear Lake City Council Ward 2. I would love to be able to better serve our community. Please don’t confuse me for Bennet Smith who is also running.” Though he did not include the final “t” in my first name, he was clearly aware that I was already in the race and that our names could potentially be confused. This was well before his submission of his nomination signatures and Affidavit of Candidacy.

I have no objection to Jack Smith or anyone else being in the race and on the ballot, but there needs to be the appropriate clarity about the names of the candidates so that voters are not confused about the identity of the candidates. I also checked the Iowa Secretary of State website to see if there was a “Ben” Smith registered to vote in the Clear Lake zip code of 50428 and there was not. My name (Bennett Smith) was what showed up based on that search, and a subsequent search of Jack Smith returned a Jack Leroy Smith. So, if this is the same individual running for office in Ward Two in Clear Lake and this is the name that he has voted under (or simply been registered to vote) it seems only appropriate that it should be the name listed on the ballot once he has decided to become a candidate for office. Being registered to vote under one name and being listed on the ballot under another name would be incongruous with the basic principles that underlay the integrity of our election process.

Furthermore, the property at the address submitted on the Affidavit of Candidacy of “Ben” Smith is actually owned by and listed under the name of Jack L. Smith according to the property records that are publicly available online at the Cerro Gordo County website. For these reasons I am requesting a formal review of this matter by the appropriate county and/or state officials responsible for determining the legal sufficiency and eligibility of candidates to be on the ballot and the proper form of names on the ballot. Thank you.

Todd Blodgett, political strategist

To lend perspective to this story, contacted GOP political strategist Todd Blodgett, who has managed and advised many north Iowa political campaigns, and asked him for his thoughts on the matter. Blodgett told NIT that, “I’m not accusing anyone of playing any dirty tricks, here, not at all. But this sort of reminds me of what JFK did to a Boston City Councilman in his first race for public office, in 1946.” Blodgett told NIT that the Kennedy for U.S. House campaign knew that a City Council member named Joe Russo was favored to win the Democratic party’s nomination for the Congressional seat that the young JFK was seeking.

“What happened,” Blodgett said, “was that JFK’s dad paid a foundry worker named Joe Russo – who had no political interest whatsoever, and had never been involved in politics – to file as a candidate.”

This meant that there were two candidates named Joe Russo on the ballot, Blodgett said, “which confused voters.” The result was that first-time candidate John F. Kennedy won the nomination, and was easily elected in that fall’s general election.

Is someone taking a page out of an old political play book, using trickery which worked for a future President of the United States? Stranger things have happened, and in politics, some times the truth IS stranger than fiction.

Clear Lake Mayor Nelson Crabb

NIT has also learned that the Clear Lake mayor and city council will be called upon later this week to decide whether “Ben Smith” will continue on as a viable candidate on the ballot.  As many as two meetings may be held to come up with a decision.

NIT will continue to keep readers informed of whatever develops in this most intriguing local political story.

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