Iowa Republicans Advance Election Bill to Decrease Early Voting Period, Tighten Absentee Rules

Politics

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowans could see stricter election laws under new bills that would make it illegal to drop off a ballot for a family or friends, limit the number of county dropboxes and decrease the number of early voting days, amongst more.  

The House and Senate advanced identical measures, Senate Study Bill 1199 and House Study Bill 213, through subcommittees on Wednesday. Both bills will now be eligible for the full State Government Committees to vote on. 

Republicans said the legislation is intended to uphold the integrity of Iowa’s elections, make sure there is uniformity of election procedures throughout the state and ensure Iowa 99 county auditors are following the law. Similar legislative efforts after the 2020 election are underway in several other state legislatures. However, opponents said the bill will have wide-ranging consequences that will ultimately make voting more difficult. 

Connie Ryan, the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said the bill will create more barriers for Iowans with disabilities, those who work multiple jobs, or everyday working parents who struggle to balance busy schedules. 

“The legislation sends the state of Iowa down a path of fewer people voting — Iowans who are eligible to vote being discouraged and hindered by their government,” she said. “Widespread voter fraud in Iowa does not exist.” 

Sen. Jason Schulz, R-Schleswig, said this legislation addresses “the controversy that the country is going through right now” in reference to former President Donald Trump’s debunked claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 general election. 

“I think myself that Iowans’ votes were disenfranchised by some shady dealings in five cities around the country,” he said. “That shows what happens when you don’t strengthen your election system — when you allow people to game elections to the point that they did in cities such as Philadelphia.”

Assertions of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election have been repeatedly rebuked by election security experts, top state election officials, and in dozens of court cases that found no evidence of fraud. Still, former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was “stolen” reverberated in parts of Wednesday’s Senate hearing. 

No fraud was discovered in Philadelphia during the 2020 elections. Pennsylvania courts rejected a number of legal challenges brought by the former president and his allies.

Iowa saw a record-breaking turnout of 1.7 million voters in the November election, with more than 75 percent of registered voters participating. More than 1 million Iowans voted absentee by either returning ballots through the mail, dropping them off or completing the ballot at early voting sites. Many Iowans chose to vote absentee in order to avoid possible exposure to COVID-19 on Election Day. 

If passed, the bill would: 

  • Reduce Iowa’s early voting period from 29 days to 18. 
  • Prohibit anyone from returning an absentee ballot, other than the vote, a caregiver or immediate family member.
  • Allow only one drop box for early ballots per county at the county auditor’s office 
  • Stop auditors from sending out absentee ballots until mid-October.
  • Prohibit auditors from sending out absentee ballot request forms without reason.
  • Make it more difficult for auditors to establish satellite voting locations.
  • Require the state attorney general to investigate all allegations of voter fraud presented to the office.

Numerous members of the lobby and public expressed concerns over several of these provisions during the 30 minute subcommittee hearing on Zoom. Many concerns related to decreasing the early voting time period. 

“We think it’ll cause longer lines for people who might want to vote early,” said Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for AARP of Iowa. “Additionally, not allowing the county auditor to send out a request form for any reason is a big concern. Individuals with disabilities or older Iowans may not have a printer to print it off at home nor may they be able to have transportation or the time to go down to their county auditor’s office to get that.”

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, did not sign off on the bill — telling her Republican counterparts that she did not understand what problem they are looking to solve. 

“It appears to me that we are almost attempting to squeeze early voting out of existence,” she said. “And a lot of Iowans, as we heard today, rely a great deal on that method of voting and have become moreso reliant on it, especially during this pandemic.”

Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said the reduction in early voting to 18 days would bring Iowa in line with national average length for early voting.

“Setting absentee voting at 18 days will limit voter remorse, the length of campaigning in the state, and allow more time for informed voting,” he said. 

When asked if the current 29 day early voting range is too long, Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed openness to that idea in a Wednesday press conference.

“It is a long period of time, I think it’s something we should continue to look at,” she said. 

A Senate subcommittee of two Republicans and one Democrat voted 2-1 to advance the legislation to the full State Government Committee, despite pleas from the public to hold off on a vote. 

Iowa’s top election commissioner, Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, has characterized November’s election as largely successful. He released this statement to WHO 13 in response to inquiries about the bill: 

“My goal has always been to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat. We also must play by the rules. I respect the fact that the Iowa Legislature sets the rules through laws for how elections are conducted. My job is to administer elections in compliance with those laws. I encourage all county auditors, election officials and candidates for office to play by the rules. As always, my office will be available to provide input and suggestions to legislators on proposed bills if asked.” 

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate

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