County auditors weigh in on absentee-voting case as Republicans try to intervene

By: - September 13, 2020 9:00 am

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)

As part of the Iowa Democratic Party’s lawsuit against the state over absentee ballot requests, the Iowa State Association of County Auditors is warning the state faces a “dire” situation that could lead to errors in the voting process this November and delays in the delivery of ballots.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, is attempting to intervene in the Democrats’ lawsuit and is arguing that the Democrats’ petition to the court is “more of a brief and argumentative press release” than the short, plain statement required by Iowa’s Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Republican National Committee, along with Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., the National Republican Senatorial Committee,  the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Party of Iowa are all seeking to intervene in the case. A judge has not yet ruled on their request.

The lawsuit, filed on Aug. 31, claims Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate violated counties’ constitutional right to home rule when he sent out an emergency directive on July 17 stating that no voter identification information could be pre-printed on the absentee ballot request forms mailed to potential voters.

The Democrats petitioned the court for judicial review of the directive, saying Pate didn’t have the authority to issue it.

Auditors in three counties — Johnson, Linn and Woodbury — have sent out forms with information such as voters’ names, addresses and personal identification numbers. At least 64,000 of the forms have already been completed and returned by voters.

The Republican National Committee has claimed the forms sent out by the counties are improper because they contain personal voter identification information. County auditors say the personalized information was used so that when voters sent back their request form, it would be more likely to include all of the required information. Without that data, they argue, the counties have to contact each voter to collect the information — a time-consuming and costly process that could lead to delays.

So far, judges have ruled in favor of the Republican claims in Linn and Woodbury counties.

As part of the new lawsuit, attorneys for Democratic Party have submitted affidavits to the court that were first used in an initial round of litigation brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and Majority Forward.

One of the affidavits is from Roxanna Moritz, writing as the president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, an organization that represents all auditors, of all parties, in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“County auditors will now also be required to send letters to the likely tens of thousands of Iowans statewide who will provide missing, incomplete, or illegible information on their request forms,” Moritz wrote. “Bigger counties will be forced to employ a large volume of temporary workers at the expense of Iowa taxpayers. Smaller counties, which may not have the funds or the labor pool available to hire additional help, will be in an even more dire position. Human error, both in processing completed request forms and in following up on incomplete or illegible request forms, will be inevitable. This will further delay delivery of ballots to eligible, active, and registered Iowans at a time when the U.S. Postal Service is already warning of election-related mail delays.”

Moritz also shared her own experience as a county auditor in eastern Iowa.

“In Scott County, where I am county auditor,” she wrote, “we received more than 24,000 request forms for the June primary. My staff and I worked 14 straight days, for 12-14 hours per day — including on Mother’s Day — to timely issue Scott County voters their ballots, and this was with the ability to use I-Voters. We are now anticipating between 60,000 and 75,000 request forms for the November general election. This will necessitate a very, very high commitment of time, energy, and money from my office.”

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert made a similar argument in an affidavit filed with the court.

“This will considerably slow our ability to timely provide these voters with their requested ballots,” he wrote. “During the June primary election, Johnson County received more request forms than any other primary that I recall — about 92,000 applications were sent out, and 20,000 to 22,000 were returned. I had to employ 11 part-time staff members, in addition to my 22 full-time staff members, to process all of the request forms. Many of these had missing information — especially missing, inaccurate, or illegible absentee ID numbers.”

Weipert said his office is “already fielding a high volume of calls from voters concerned about voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with the interest in the upcoming presidential election, and the record-breaking turnout in the June primaries (which was driven primarily by absentee voters), I anticipate a turnout of approximately 70% to 75% of registered voters in Johnson County.”

He said that despite COVID-19 guidance from public health officials is to minimize the number of staff in his office, he may have to hire “dozens of full-time and part-time staff members” to stuff envelopes.

Similar arguments were made in affidavits filed by cauditors in Linn, Hardin and Woodbury counties.

Pate has said the Democratic Party is confusing voters with their actions. “The Democratic Party has already confused and potentially disenfranchised voters, and wasted taxpayer dollars in Linn, Woodbury and Johnson counties. Now they’re doubling down by suing over a lawful emergency directive that the bipartisan Iowa Legislative Council unanimously voted for, including their party’s House and Senate leaders,” Pate said in a statement.

County auditors, not the Democratic Party, mailed the absentee ballot request forms in Linn, Woodbury and Johnson counties. The auditors of those counties, who are Democrats, were not plaintiffs in the party’s lawsuit.

Pate’s office sent out absentee ballot request forms statewide last week and he said his office will work with county auditors to “make sure that it’s being communicated to those folks who have already sent in their request on the wrong form based on what the courts are saying so they’re successful in being able to vote.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.