Iowa GOP Moves Quickly on Bill Limiting Early Voting


Chris Helps, of Earlham, Iowa, fills out his ballot during early voting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Adel, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — House and Senate committees on Thursday approved a bill that would significantly limit voting by mail and early voting, threaten criminal charges against county auditors who depart from state election guidance and remove voters from the active voter rolls if they miss one general election.

The quick action with only Republican votes makes the similar House and Senate versions of the bill eligible for floor debate as early as next week. The House is planning a public hearing on the measure at 5 p.m. Monday.

The far-reaching bill would cut the mail and in-person early voting period from 29 to 18 days, after Republicans whittled it down from 40 days just four years ago. It would bar counties from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters, tightly regulate how absentee ballots can be returned and potentially reduce many early voting locations.

Democratic Sen. Pam Jochum argued during committee debate that the bill did nothing to protect elections or encourage voting.

“It is an attack on Iowa’s democracy and it is disgusting,” Jochum said.

During a House committee debate, Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann defended the bill, saying it ensures successful elections, election integrity and the right to vote.

“I adamantly, ardently and judiciously believe that HSB213 does not suppress one single vote,” he said.

Republicans in 33 states have introduced or carried over 165 bills this year that could restrict voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a Washington-based public policy institute.

Many Republicans have said the new bills are meant to shore up public confidence after President Donald Trump and his GOP allies, without evidence, criticized the election as fraudulent. Those claims were turned away by dozens of courts and were made even as a group of election officials deemed the 2020 presidential election the “the most secure in American history.”

The Iowa State Association of County Auditors, which represents election commissioners in all 99 counties, warned the bill would remove local decision-making, threaten severe penalties against election workers who make mistakes and increase their staffing needs and workloads.

Voters would see longer lines at polling places on Election Day and at the remaining early voting sites, said Ryan Dokter, a Republican who is the group’s president and auditor in Sioux County.

The bill is also opposed by disability rights groups, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, AARP, the League of Women Voters of Iowa and labor unions.

Republicans have the votes to pass the bill without Democratic support and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled Wednesday that she was open to reducing mail and early voting opportunities, calling the current 29-day window “a long period of time.”


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