Iowa GOP Blocked Statewide Absentee Voting, Stepped On Own Dicks
You might recall how, back in June, Iowa set a record for voter turnout in its primary election because the secretary of state, Republican Paul Pate, sent all registered voters an absentee ballot request. Everything went smoothly and the state saw incredible voter participation, not just for a primary, but for any election. 531,131 people — just short of 25 percent of registered voters — cast ballots. It was such a success that Republicans in the state Senate passed a bill prohibiting statewide mailing of absentee ballot requests ever again, because Republicans have decided they hate it when too many people vote.
Eventually, after national condemnation of the bill, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a slightly less draconian compromise: If a secretary of state wanted to change election procedures to meet a health crisis, it would have to be approved by the state's "Legislative Council," a body made up of the leadership of both houses and some other long-serving members of the state Lege.
As the indispensable Bleeding Heartland blog explains, the Iowa GOP's move to keep Pate from letting too many eligible Iowans vote may have handed a nice little present to Democrats. Nothing in state law says county election officials — In Iowa, they're called "Auditors" for some reason — can't send out ballot requests to everyone in a county. So that's what the auditors in seven heavily Democratic counties have said they plan to do. Gosh, shame your attempt to shut down voting by mail appears to have prevented ballots going out to every part of the state, guys.
Bleeding Heartland notes that in Iowa, it's already common for parties and political campaigns to send absentee ballot request forms to their favored voters.
But John Deeth, a longtime elections worker and active Democratic volunteer in Johnson County, noted recently that "no mailing has ever succeeded as well as Pate's primary mailer. The keys were 1) targeting EVERYONE and 2) return postage paid. We set an example for the whole country this primary."
When Democrats in the state lege asked the Legislative Council on July 1 to approve use of federal coronavirus relief funds to mail out absentee ballot request forms for the general election, the council, which like the legislature has a Republican majority, voted the idea down.
But in the last week or so, the auditors for seven counties with heavy Democratic registration have announced they plan to send out absentee request forms, either to all registered voters or all "active" voters — those who have voted at least once in the past four years. And those seven counties (Dubuque, Linn, Johnson, Scott, Black Hawk, Polk, and Woodbury)
are home to more than 850,000 of Iowa's 2,003,793 million active registered voters, according to the latest official figures. As a group, those counties lean substantially more Democratic than the state as a whole.
As it turns out, the blog notes, neither party has a real advantage in voter registration. A July 1 report from the Secretary of State's office showed Iowa currently has "681,148 active registered Democrats, 681,789 Republicans, and 627,444 no-party voters statewide." But geographically, those Democrats tend to be bunched up a little bit:
More than half of all Iowa Democrats (356,949) live in the seven counties that appear likely to mail ballot requests to all residents. But only about a third of registered Republicans do (233,084).
In three of Iowa's four congressional districts, fairly substantial portions of the districts' registered Democrats live in counties that have already made plans to send out mail-in applications to all voters. (District 4, where Steve King was just turfed out by Randy Feenstra, a merely rightwing Trump fan, is not among them.) The ballot requests may also offer a boost to some candidates for the state legislature. Says Bleeding Heartland,
If there's no statewide mailing from the secretary of state, and federal funds aren't released to county auditors to cover the cost of sending everyone a postage-paid absentee ballot request form, GOP candidates could be at a disadvantage.
The Republican Party of Iowa and several campaigns will surely pay for their own absentee ballot mailing to reach Republicans and certain no-party voters. But many irregular voters don't appear on party lists. Many voters don't have internet access at home or the ability to print a form downloaded from a website.
Pate's mailing of absentee ballot request forms was plain old good government, a straightforward effort to protect the public health and to ensure access to the ballot for everyone. Gosh, how sad that his Republican colleagues' effort to prevent it from happening again may backfire.
We suppose the Legislative Council might take another look at evening things up by allowing a statewide mailing, so every registered voter gets an application. That might tamp down the possible advantage to Democrats in those seven counties.
But it would mean admitting in front of the voters, God, and Donald Trump that voting by mail isn't fraudulent, it's just good and small-d democratic. That could be trouble.
Golly, what a dilemma, we feel so bad for Iowa Republicans.
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