DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republicans in the Iowa Senate approved a bill Tuesday sharply limiting early voting, with some arguing that changes were needed to ensure the integrity of the state’s election despite no evidence of fraud.
The bill, approved on a vote of 30-18 with only Republican support, would reduce the mail and in-person early voting period, tightly regulate how absentee ballots can be returned and require polls in all elections to close at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than currently for general elections.
Bill sponsor Sen. Roby Smith said it will create uniform election rules statewide.
“It’s easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said.
The House, also controlled by Republicans, is expected to approve the bill as soon as Wednesday. If so, it will go to Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican and strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, who has claimed without evidence that there was widespread fraud in his loss to President Joe Biden. Reynolds has indicated she supports the voting restrictions.
Smith and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann have in recent years continually pushed for voting restrictions that opponents say would make voting more difficult, especially for minorities and immigrants, under the guise of improving voter security. Smith has argued that previous voting restrictions haven’t been as onerous as critics alleged and predicted the current measures would not hinder turnout.
“Obviously the voters like what we’re doing. They could have fired us and they chose to rehire us,” Smith said, referring to Republicans election success that left them in control of the Legislature and governor’s office.
During the November election, a record nearly 1.7 million Iowa voters cast ballots. Although Trump won in Iowa, he lost the national vote by more than 7 million votes.
Trump and his supporters filed numerous lawsuits in an effort to overturn the election results, but courts consistently maintained their arguments were without merit and that Biden had won the election.
Sioux City Republican Sen. Jim Carlin said he still believes there was widespread voter fraud despite the lack of proof.
“Most of us in the Republican caucus believe the election was stolen,” Carlin said. There has been no evidence presented in a court of law that would support Carlin’s claims that President Joe Biden was not lawfully elected. The Trump administration itself called the 2020 election the most secure in US history.
Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City called the bill a cynical and corrosive effort to erode voter confidence in elections and democracy.
“The legislation is not based in reality. It rests on lies,” Bolkcom said. “It doesn’t solve any real problems. It creates problems.”
Opponents of the bill include groups advocating for the elderly, labor unions, voters with disabilities, immigrants, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of Women Voters of Iowa. All said they believe the bill will make voting more difficult for many people and create longer lines at polling places.
Out of nearly 1,200 people who signed up to comment at a Feb. 22 public hearing, all but 28 opposed the legislation.