Judge invalidates all absentee ballot request forms mailed to voters by Johnson County Auditor

Absentee ballot request forms, some sent by the Johnson County Auditor. — Genevieve Trainor/Little Village

The pre-filled absentee ballot requests sent to all active voters in Johnson County are invalid, District Court Judge Ian Thornhill ruled in a decision released on Monday morning. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the Trump campaign, the Republican Party of Iowa and two national Republican campaign committees.

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announced on July 2 that in order to make it easier to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic, his office would send absentee ballot request forms with some pre-filled information. Linn County Auditor Joel Miller had already begun the same process. Woodbury County Auditor Patrick Gill announced he would also send out absentee ballot requests.

Secretary of State Paul Pate has taken the position that a new Iowa law that prohibits auditors from using information in their databases to fill in missing information on absentee ballot requests as they have in the past — now auditors must contact a voter and ask them to fill in the missing information or submit a new request form — also prohibits auditor from filling in commonly omitted information in advance.

In his ruling, Thornhill said Iowa law doesn’t specifically state that the voter making the request is the one who fills in all the information on an absentee ballot request application, just that the voter is one who submits the application and signs it. But according to Thornhill, the law cited by Pate and the Republican groups suing the Johnson County Auditor “implies that the Iowa Legislature intended for the information to be included on an application for an absentee ballot to be provided by the voter himself or herself.”

The judge’s ruling instructs the auditor’s office to send letters to anyone who has returned an absentee ballot application, informing them the application is invalid. More than 16,000 ballot requests from Johnson County voters have already been returned to the auditor’s office. Anyone who submitted one of the now invalid forms can submit another request and receive an absentee ballot.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office is sending blank absentee ballot requests to all people listed as active voters. Weipart has said that the unprecedented demand for absentee ballot is likely to lead to an equally unprecedented number of request forms missing necessary information, and there is currently no efficient way for auditors to address this. Sending pre-filled application was meant to address this problem.

The same Republican groups that sued in Johnson County to invalidate the pre-filled applications, also sued the auditor’s offices in Linn County and Woodbury County to invalidate their applications. Both of those lawsuits were successful. Thornhill was also the judge who presided over the Linn County case.

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