Voters head into Des Moines Precinct 16 at the Northwest Community Center to vote on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Jim Obradovich for Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Iowa’s 2020 election was one for the record books — with 1.7 million people marking ballots.
It was an impressive turnout in Iowa — with 76% of Iowa’s eligible voters taking part.
There were no allegations of election fraud or polling place shenanigans in Iowa. No one suggested people from cemeteries were casting ballots in our state.
We didn’t hear claims Iowa voting machines were rigged by nefarious forces. No one suggested counterfeit ballots were sneaked into counties across Iowa.
So, this question is worth asking:
Why is the Iowa Legislature fast-tracking dramatic changes in the state’s election laws that will make it more difficult for people to vote?
Many Iowans prefer to vote before Election Day — especially the elderly or disabled, those in retail whose work schedules are set at the last minute, or those who will be out of state at college or away at a winter residence.
Lawmakers behind these changes prefer to talk about making our elections more secure. They like to speak about election integrity.
But they don’t explain how these changes will improve election security or election integrity in Iowa. They avoid mentioning this because the real reason for the changes is harder to explain away.
It’s politics, plain and simple. Three-quarters of Iowa Democrats who voted last fall voted early, Secretary of State Paul Pate has reported. Only half of Republicans were early voters.
Sen. Jason Schultz, a Schleswig Republican, told reporters he supports the legislation because, “It addresses the controversy that the country is going through right now.”
He claimed, without offering evidence, that there were “shady dealings across the country” and that some states allow people “to game elections the way they did in cities like Philadelphia.”
Whether you accept former U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s assurances there were no widespread voting irregularities, or whether you choose to ignore the judges who ruled against Donald Trump’s 60 election challenges, this is irrefutable:
The bill before the Legislature will not stop any supposed “shady dealings” in Iowa because there have been none. What the legislation, as amended by the Iowa Senate on Tuesday, will do if it becomes law is this:
- Reduce the time for early voting to 20 days before the election, from the current 29 days (and from 40 days that was allowed until 2017);
- Prohibit county auditors from mailing absentee ballots until mid-October (which, with slower mail delivery, creates concerns about ballots arriving too late to be marked and mailed back in time to be counted);
- Allow county auditors to mail absentee ballot request forms only upon request;
- Change the time when voters can first request an absentee ballot to late August, from the early July now;
- Prohibit anyone other than the voter, an immediate family member or caregiver from returning a voter’s completed absentee ballot (which creates problems for voters without access to a car).
Cerro Gordo County Auditor Adam Wedmore told reporters, “Iowa has always led the way with strong election security, great voter participation, and has been an example to other states of how elections should be run. These bills do not appear to be based on voter security or election integrity and instead will actually limit voter access.”
As if the bill were not bad enough already, one more section in it should raise the blood pressure of every Iowan of every political persuasion:
If you do not participate in one general election, the legislation would require the county auditor to mark you as “inactive.” That designation begins the process that could lead to being kicked off the registered voter roll.
Voting is a right. Americans are not required to vote. Some of us miss an election because we are ill or caring for a sick loved one or are called away on an urgent matter.
It’s one thing if you move onto the “inactive” list because election mail to you is returned to the county auditor by the Postal Service. But it’s a different matter if officials begin the process of cancelling your voter registration simply because you sat out one election.
The changes Republican lawmakers are pushing remind me of what Voltaire, the French philosopher, said long ago: “Common sense is not so common.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.