Absentee voting dominates final debate of the 2020 legislative session

By: - June 14, 2020 2:41 pm

Misinformation aimed at voters is a form of cyberattack on elections, experts said during a cybersecurity conference Sept. 9, 2021. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A renewed argument over Republicans’ efforts to place new restrictions on absentee voting dominated the final hours of the 2020 legislative session in the Iowa House.

The Senate, which had worked all night, adjourned at 1:32 p.m. Sunday. The House adjourned minutes later, at 1:39 p.m., after taking final action on a $7.8 billion budget.

House Republican leaders set a deadline of 1 p.m. for completing action on three budget bills.  Democrats spent most of the time debating an amendment the Senate attached overnight to House File 2643.

The measure restricts county auditors’ ability to make corrections to absentee ballot request forms if a voter leaves off some identification information or fills it out incorrectly. County auditors would have to contact the voter by phone or electronically within 24 hours of receiving an absentee ballot request form containing identification errors to verify the information before sending out the absentee ballot.

Republicans in the House said the measure was aimed at preventing fraud.

“The purpose of this legislation is going forward to help ensure that the person who applies for an absentee ballot is the one who casts an absentee ballot,” Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Davenport, said.

Democrats argued that it continued a pattern of voter suppression efforts by majority Republicans in the wake of a record-turnout primary election.

Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, cited the Republican-backed voter ID law, a failed effort to do away with satellite voting sites in public buildings such as college campuses, and a move this year requiring felons to pay restitution to victims in order to get automatic restoration of their voting rights. The Senate did not, however, advance a proposed constitutional amendment for the automatic restoration of voting rights.

“Well almost immediately after that happened, we got Sen. (Roby) Smith’s garbage about voter suppression. And that’s what we’re dealing with now: voter suppression,” Hunter said.

Hunter had joined with Rep. Bobby Kauffman, R-Wilton, to tone down legislation that Smith, R-Davenport, proposed, and Senate Republicans approved, that would prohibit the secretary of state from taking certain emergency actions related to voting.

Secretary of State Paul Pate sent every active registered voter an absentee ballot request form before the June 2 primary. Pate said the purpose was to encourage voting by mail to protect voters and poll workers from the spread of COVID-19. Senate Republicans barred that action and certain other emergency procedures.

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, noted that Iowans turned out in record numbers for the primary with no reported problems.

“I met with the county auditors. They told me it was smooth, seamless, one of the best primary elections they’ve ever had ꟷ in the middle of a pandemic,” Prichard said.

The House also agreed to cut the secretary of state’s budget for next fiscal year by $250,000.  Democrats said those dollars could have been used to draw down $4 million in federal money to assist with voting. Mohr said it was a compromise with Senate Republicans, who wanted to cut $500,000.

The legislation approved Sunday now goes to the governor’s desk.  Because it is contained in appropriations bills, the language is subject to line-item veto if Reynolds chooses not to sign any part of it into law.

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