Linn auditor completes mailing of absentee ballot request forms despite RNC objections

Oct. 5 is the first day Iowa voters can return absentee ballots. (Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said he was mailing out a final batch of absentee ballot request forms to voters Tuesday, despite a letter from the Republican National Committee claiming the forms are illegal and demanding that the secretary of state order the forms to be declared invalid.

The RNC’s attorney, J. Justin Riemer, wrote to Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate on Monday, demanding that he “immediately issue an emergency order” to prohibit all county auditors from distributing absentee ballot request forms that include personal identification information such as the voter’s name, address, date of birth and voter identification number.

“This reckless act is not only a severe breach of security (particularly for confidential information like a person’s date of birth and voter identification PIN), but likely violates both the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Iowa law,” Riemer wrote.

Riemer called for Pate to direct county auditors who have sent forms pre-printed with voter identification information to individually notify each voter by mail and email that the form is invalid and send a replacement blank form instead. The letter also demands that Pate direct county auditors to refuse to return ballots to voters who use a request form with pre-printed identification

“I look forward to the opportunity to resolve this issue without the need for litigation,” Riemer’s letter states.

Miller has mailed out about 100,000 forms to Linn County registered voters that include a voter personal identification number or PIN, a four-digit code issued by the state. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert also has announced plans to distribute forms starting this week that include the voter PIN.

Earlier this month, the secretary of state issued an order, approved by the Legislative Council on July 17, that specifies that county auditors may distribute only “blank” forms without any voter identification information provided. Miller, in an interview last week, said he had obtained legal advice that persuaded him he could proceed.

Miller and Weipert issued a joint statement Monday in response to the RNC’s letter:

Iowans have a hard-earned time-tested tradition of holding fair and free elections, uncontaminated by the efforts of outside pressure groups. That unique tradition is a part of what we sometimes call the “Iowa Way.”  Consistent with that tradition, our offices are making every effort to give active voters in Linn and Johnson Counties all reasonable options to assure that every vote counts and can be cast in the safest ways possible.

An important part of those safe-voting efforts has been to send, in sealed envelopes to their last known addresses, to every active voter—regardless of party affiliation—absentee ballot request forms with correct voter identification information included on the forms, so that they can be returned to our offices, where we serve as the County Commissioners of Elections, so that absentee ballots can be issued to those voters starting on October 5th.

It is extremely concerning that the Republican National Committee is placing pressure on Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate to impede our efforts to make voting easier and safer for Iowans during a pandemic.  This is as wrong as it is unprecedented.  Secretary Pate would be wise to ignore this pressure to contaminate Iowa’s storied fair election processes.  Let him perform his job, too, consistent with the Iowa Way, unsullied by outside influences.   

This is the second effort by the RNC to influence how Iowa’s election is conducted. The RNC, along with the Trump campaign and other Republican organizations, filed a motion last week seeking to intervene in a lawsuit over a new law dealing with Iowa absentee ballots requests, The Des Moines Register reported. The law prevents county auditors from correcting or completing missing information on absentee ballot request forms without contacting the voter by phone or email.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and a non-profit group called Majority Forward are contesting the law, claiming it is unconstitutional. The RNC, Republican Party of Iowa and other GOP organizations are trying to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Miller also received a letter from the secretary of state’s office Monday, asking for documentation and a list of questions about the forms he mailed. Among other things, an attorney for the office asked for the names of employees who assisted with the mailings. The letter also asked whether the Linn County attorney gave “approval to disregard the State Commissioner of Election’s direction to not pre-print voters’ personally identifiable information on your absentee ballot request form mailings.

Miller said the Linn County attorney is reviewing the secretary of state’s demands.

The secretary of state’s office did not ask that forms be declared invalid or relay any of the RNC’s other demands.