House speaker says limiting early voting in Iowa will shorten political campaigns

A proposed bill would require a review of the constitutionality of presidential executive orders. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley says shortening the time window for Iowans to cast their ballot in future elections will help shorten the campaigns of politicians such as himself.

Last November, close to 1 million Iowans took advantage of the early-balloting process, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 80% of registered Democrats, as opposed to 54% of registered Republicans, participated in the election through absentee, or mail-in, voting.

Legislation now being pushed by the GOP-controlled Legislature would reduce Iowa’s early-voting period from 29 days to 18 days, and would prevent county auditors from sending out absentee ballots until mid-October. It also would prohibit auditors from mailing out absentee ballot request forms for any reason, and would make it more difficult for auditors to establish satellite voting locations.

Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, said Thursday that efforts to shorten the time period for absentee voting aren’t politically motivated, and suggested that shortening the time window in which citizens can vote is needed to help shorten the length of campaigns waged by politicians like himself.

He said a record number of Iowans voted in 2020 and attributed that to the fact that in 2017 the Iowa Legislature shortened the voting period from 40 days to 29 days.

State Rep. Pat Grassley is a Republican from New Hartford. (Photo via the Iowa Legislature)

“We hear a lot about Iowans — and probably all across the country, but in Iowa — folks just, you know, it’s the exhausting length of the campaigns,” he said. “I actually think that there is evidence that … folks aren’t going to be having the same time to vote, or that they’re not going to be able to have enough time to vote. When we went from 40 to 29 days the last time, we had record turnout. I don’t think there’s any evidence to show that stops folks from coming out to vote. I think our caucus has full faith in Iowans to be able to request a ballot a couple months before the voting happens, and then that’s an adequate amount of time to be able to return them.”

Asked specifically how the shortening the voting window for Iowans would shorten the campaigns waged by politicians, Grassley said, “I think that, you know, it’s just common sense. We have proven that time really doesn’t matter when it comes to immediate impact on voter turnout. And again, when we shortened from 40 to 29 days, we had record turnout. I don’t see why that would be a concern. It clearly increased turnout in the last election.”

Grassley said the legislation will also help address concerns with voter fraud.

“Quite honestly, one of the biggest issues we hear about is election security,” he said. “I know folks would say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re probably just, you know, you’re just mad about the presidential election.’ But I don’t think that’s what it’s about. If you look down in Georgia, at the two Senate races, a lot of feedback that we’re hearing from there is concerns about election security, election integrity.

“I think we do a great job here in Iowa, but I think there’s an expectation from the voters. We saw some things, maybe, in the last election, that we were uncomfortable with. And there’s an expectation from voters to make sure we do everything we can to have secure and safe elections, and so that’s why we’re being proactive with the bill.”

He acknowledged that opponents of the bill say it is an attempt at voter suppression. “We continue to hear that everything we’re going to pass is suppression and all these things,” he said. “I just don’t see that there’s evidence to support any of those claims.”

Other Statehouse Republicans have said the legislation is designed to address concerns with voter fraud in the 2020 elections – concerns that have been raised by Republicans nationally, but widely debunked or rejected by the courts.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, has said he supports the legislation because it will address “the controversy that the country is going through right now. He cited “shady dealing” during the fall election, and specifically referenced the widely discredited claim that people in Philadelphia and other major cities were allowed to “game” the election.

Grassley said he expects the bill could easily be debated on the House floor as soon as next week.

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. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.