Iowa Senate Republicans pass a bill that makes it harder to vote

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Iowa’s absentee ballot request form for the June 2020 primary election. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

On Wednesday, the Iowa Senate passed a bill that will make to more difficult for people to vote. The bill, which would make illegal the sort of help with absentee voting that Secretary of State Paul Pate provided during the June primary, was approved 30-19. All the votes in favor of the bill came from Republicans. Two Republicans joined the Democrats who voted against it.

The bill would prevent the secretary of state from sending an absentee ballot request form to a voter unless the voter has submitted a written request for that form. Prior to the June 2 primary, Pate sent absentee request forms to everyone listed as an active voter on the state’s voter roll to make it easier for people to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voter turnout in the June primary shattered previous records. Nearly 525,000 people cast ballots, and most than 396,000 of them voted using absentee ballot.

The bill makes other changes to election law, expanding the state’s voter ID requirements and prohibiting the secretary of state from making any changes to election procedures prior to an election with federal candidates on the ballot, including the general election in November.

The bill also forbids county election officials from using databases to fill in missing information from an absentee ballot request form as they currently do.

“What are you afraid of?” Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, asked last week when the bill was before the Senate State Government Committee. “That more people in this state might engage in a constitutional right to cast a vote?”

National Republicans leaders, including President Trump, have been loudly opposed to absentee voting, claiming it will lead to voter fraud, despite the fact there is no evidence to support this.

Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, the bill’s sponsor, echoed those opponents of absentee voting.

“This bill is about security,” Smith said during the floor debate on Wednesday. “This bill is to make sure someone’s vote is not erased by someone that is not legally allowed to vote. More people will vote under this bill.”

Like Trump, Smith provided no proof of a problem with fraud in absentee voting.

The Iowa State Association of County Auditors, which represents all the local officials responsible for the state’s elections, is opposed to the bill.

“County auditors, as local commissioners of elections, are baffled by this,” ISACA President Roxanna Moritz said in a letter to legislators. “The 2020 primary was very successful, based on a variety of metrics, largely due to the steps taken by the Secretary. Counties experienced record or near-record turnout. Election Day went very smoothly. Results were rapidly available. Why would the state want to cripple the process that led to such success?”


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The bill now goes to the Iowa House of Representatives, where it has wide support among Republicans.

During her press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Reynolds was asked if Sec. Pate did the right thing by sending out absentee ballot request forms before the primary.

“I think that was fine,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t comment on Smith’s bill.

Another reporter followed up, asking the governor what went wrong in the primary election this June that needs to be fixed.

“I haven’t seen the new legislation, I haven’t sat down and read it, so I don’t know,” Reynolds replied. “I haven’t had a chance to take a look at that. We’ll take a look at the legislation and see where that ends up.”

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