Joel grew up on a dairy farm outside of Independence, Iowa. After graduating high school, Joel served as a deputy sheriff and as a part-time police officer. In 1977, Joel entered the United States Army and served 3 years on active duty attaining the rank of Sergeant. Following his time in the United States Army, Joel returned home, went back to college, obtained a degree in electronics engineering technology, and worked as an IBEW electronics tech for AT&T. From 2002 to 2005, Joel served on the City Council of Robins, and served as the city's mayor from 2006 to 2007. In 2007, Joel was elected in a special election to serve as Linn County Auditor, the second largest county in the state. Since 2007, Joel has been re-elected in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020. Joel has been married to his wife, Sylvia, for 44 years and they have three adult children and nine grandchildren.
During his tenure as Linn County Auditor, Joel has been no stranger to tackling government problems. Joel has cracked down on wasteful county spending, opposed the use of special bank accounts outside the scope of the county treasurer, recorded and published videos of county supervisor meetings while the board refused, expanded voting registration to public places like bus stops, created an outreach program to help military members vote from overseas, supported the proposal of open primaries to allow voters the right to vote in primary elections regardless of party affiliation, and ensured the integrity of elections by encouraging the inspection of voting machines and networks. Joel was referred to as the, "Rattler of Government Cages", by The Gazette in Cedar Rapids and will continue to do so as the Secretary of State.
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