State has not moved to stop Linn County election mailings with ID numbers

By: - July 24, 2020 4:15 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)

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller says he hasn’t heard a word from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office since he started sending out over 100,000 absentee ballot request forms to county voters that include a personal identification number (PIN).

As of Thursday, Miller had mailed about 89,000 forms and was in the process of sending out the remaining 50,000 forms.

The Legislative Council approved an emergency order a week ago forbidding county auditors from sending out request forms that include personal identification information.  Only blank forms were allowed, because Republican lawmakers said they were concerned about ballot security.

Miller, however, had already made plans to mail out forms with the four-digit PINs included. He expects the cost to the county to total nearly $100,000.

This week, he has been sending them out in batches starting Monday.

Joel Miller is the Linn County auditor. (Photo courtesy of Joel Miller)

“I gave them notice.  I gave them ample time to do something before I mailed them,” Miller said in an interview.

He said he waited until after 4 p.m. Monday to go to the post office to give state officials time to file for a court order.

“So I gave them all day, on Monday, July 20, to do something as well as all of the preceding week and told them that I needed to see some, you know, an order from the court to halt. Which never came to be,” Miller said.

He said he’s also been reporting his progress to the secretary of state’s office, as well as the public, on social media. “I know they follow me on Twitter. So they knew exactly what I was doing,” he said.

He mailed 63,000 forms the first day and tweeted about it. “I tweeted again when I dropped the next 12,000. I tweeted again when I dropped the next 14,000,” he said.

“So I’m not trying to hide this. I am being transparent about it,” he added.

“You know, they made such a big deal at the Legislative Council … to tell everyone how illegal this would be to basically defy the Secretary of State. And then time passes and nothing happens. So was that just posturing? Or is there some law that I broke?”

Miller said he’s consulted several lawyers and feels he’s in compliance with the law.

The secretary of state’s office, asked whether Pate might file suit to block the mailings of absentee ballot request forms that include pre-printed identification information, sent a statement from Pate:

“I fully support county auditors making absentee ballot request forms easily available to every eligible citizen, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. They should also do everything possible to protect election integrity and instill Iowans with confidence that absentee voting is safe and secure. In stark contrast to these goals, pre-filling absentee ballot request forms with voters’ personal identifying information gives critics of absentee voting an opportunity to question the validity of election results in those counties. Iowa courts have already ruled that Voter ID is acceptable and constitutional, both at the polls and on absentee ballot requests.”

Miller disagrees that pre-printing PINs would have any effect on election security. He noted that for someone to even open a mailing addressed to someone else with an absentee ballot request form inside is against the law, let alone filling it out fraudulently, mailing it back, opening the ballot addressed to someone else and then voting with it.  “How many felonies do we have to have before people are disincentivized from doing something stupid? I mean, that’s like six felonies right there,” he said.

Iowa Attorney General’s Office spokesman Lynn Hicks said in an email Friday that he’d heard of no plans to try to stop county auditors from mailing or processing forms that don’t comply with the secretary of state’s order.

Iowa Capital Dispatch asked the secretary of state’s office spokesman to clarify whether Pate would take this issue to court or seek other recourse.  “When we have more to say we’ll let you know,” secretary of state’s office spokesman Kevin Hall responded.

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