Iowa Mail-In Voting Worked So Well, Republicans Promise #NEVERAGAIN
Georgia made an absolute mess of its primary elections Tuesday, with hours-long lines, absentee ballot requests that were never fulfilled, and too few operable voting machines and paper provisional ballots in majority-black precincts. In contrast, the state of Iowa held a perfectly smooth primary a week before, on June 2. Iowa's Secretary of State Paul Pate (say it three times fast!) had mailed out absentee ballot requests to all registered voters well ahead of the vote, and unlike in Georgia, his office got the actual ballots out to all the voters who wanted to vote by mail. In fact, the state set a new record for turnout, with more than 530,000 votes cast. Eighty percent of the vote — 420,000 ballots — were cast by mail, according to Pate's office. As a result, voters who did choose to go to the polls in person weren't crowded and everything was beautiful.
And boy oh boy, did that make Pate's fellow Republicans mad. So the Republican-controlled state Senate on Wednesday passed a great big bill that would prohibit the secretary of state from ever sending out absentee ballot requests to all voters ever again. Instead, voters would have to individually request absentee ballots on their own, and submit proof that they're registered while they're at it. Yes, that would reduce turnout, which is the point.
The bill also had a bunch of other restrictions on voting, because Republicans really do not trust what might happen if too many people can exercise the most fundamental right in a democratic republic. No, it is NOT owning an AR-15.
The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Roby Smith, said it was absolutely vital to make absentee voting harder, because what about voter fraud? He told Iowa Public Radio his constituents were very concerned about voter ID and preventing fraud, explaining that the measure "ensures Iowa registered voters continue to have safe, secure and reliable elections."
Iowa saw a shocking 23 convictions for voting fraud between 2012 and 2016, as the Iowa Gazette reported in 2017, when Pate pushed a more typical Republican scheme to require photo ID for voting.
Smith also said the ban on sending ballot applications to all registered voters was necessary to prevent future secretaries of state from going mad with power.
(With the) secretary of state, we have no checks and balances. [...] And I know today you like what he did. A future secretary of state, in the future, may do something you don't like.
As far as we can tell, Smith didn't offer any examples.
The Senate measure was also loaded up with other limits on voting, because once you start restricting votes, it gets to be a real rush.
The bill would prohibit the secretary from taking emergency election action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The secretary can make changes in cases of extreme weather or during wartime, it says, but not during a health crisis. It also prevents Pate from making any changes to the early or absentee voting process, even in an emergency. [Emphasis added — Dok]
In addition, the bill would require election offices to send reminder notices to any voter who misses one general election and would require his or her status to be updated to "inactive" before the notices are sent. Current law says that notices should sent after four years of no voting, with no change in status unless the post office returns the notice as undeliverable.
That latter bit is particularly noxious, as a longtime elections office employee from Johnson County explained at Bleeding Heartland, which is a very metal name for a political blog. "This bill makes us send notices to anyone who misses ONE general election, AND it requires us to make the voters Inactive even before we send the cards! That would inactivate hundreds of thousands of presidential election only voters." Putting someone on the "inactive" list doesn't prevent them from voting, but it's the first step toward removing them from the rolls altogether. Ultimately, an update from Bleeding Heartland notes, Smith removed that provision before the Senate vote.
The measure also prohibits county election officials from using databases to fill in information that might be missing on an absentee ballot request form, so that if you make an error, you don't get a ballot. A similar regulation put in place by Pate was tossed in 2019; the Polk County judge who struck that provision said it was "irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable" to prevent county officials from looking up such details to help voters.
In addition, the bill would prevent county auditors (which Iowa has instead of "clerks"), from closing more than 35 percent of polling places when an emergency requires consolidation of precincts. That one may not be too bad, since some voters reported having to drive an hour to vote. Then again, when combined with the mail-in restrictions, it also seems aimed at pushing in-person voting rather than making mail-in voting easy. Not like there's gonna be a pandemic in November.
There are also a couple of small improvements to mail-in balloting that were supported by both parties, like extending the time a hospitalized voter has to request a ballot, and allowing more time for people who forget to sign their absentee ballot to get their votes counted after their local elections office contacts them.
Smith insisted that those measures alone would vastly boost the state's absentee vote. Maybe there are a LOT of Iowans in the hospital come election time. He also claimed that limiting the availability of ballot applications was absolutely not voter suppression: "Not a single soul in Iowa will miss a vote because of this legislation. [...] The tool for absentee balloting is still there. Every single person in Iowa can vote absentee if they'd like." They just have to want it enough.
The nonpartisan Iowa State Association of County Auditors sent an incredulous letter to state lawmakers, saying county officials were "baffled" by the bill:
The 2020 primary was very successful, based on a variety of metrics, largely due to the steps taken by the secretary. Counties experienced record or near-record turnout. Election Day went very smoothly. Results were rapidly available. Why would the state want to cripple the process that led to such success?
Gosh, if only someone could say!
The bill passed in the Iowa Senate Wednesday by a 30-19 vote, with two Republican state senators voting against it and Democrats accusing Rs of trying to rig the 2020 election in favor of the reelection campaigns of Donald Trump and Sen. Joni Ernst. Then Thursday, in a bit of a surprise, the state House took up the bill and overwhelmingly voted to remove the very worst parts of it, at least a little. As the Des Moines Register reports,
Instead of banning the secretary of state from taking action, the amendment supported by the House requires the secretary of state to seek approval from the Legislative Council — a group of lawmakers made up of leadership and long-serving members of both parties in the House and Senate — before changing election procedures. The Legislative Council could approve the secretary of state's plan, propose an alternative or decline to take action.
The bipartisan amendment was offered by state Reps. Bobby Kaufmann (R) and Bruce Hunter (D), and passed in a whopping 95-2 vote. Hunter read a letter from the auditors' group saying it was much better. Kaufmann, for his part, grumbled,
Yes, what [Pate] did was legal. No, what he did was not responsible. [...] While you might like what happened this time — when, for instance, the absentee ballot day extension was moved from 29 to 40 (days) — it sets the precedent that next time it could be moved from 29 to five.
And if some asshole tried that, it would result in a lawsuit so fast your head would spin, but sure, fine, whatevs.
The amendment preserves the limit on closing voting locations, but stripped out much of the Senate bill, reducing it from 27 pages to six. Bleeding Heartland says the amendment eliminates that stupid bit preventing county officials from completing missing information from absentee ballot requests, and got rid of a provision that would have required more signatures to get third-party or independent candidates on the ballot.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has remained mum on whether she'll sign either version of the bill, though she has previously said Pate's management of the primary was "fine."
The revised bill now goes back to the state Senate, which for all we know will now require absentee ballot applications to include a DNA swab.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.