(Photo by John Micek/Pennsylvania Capital-Star)
Iowa would see new absentee ballot voter identification requirements, statewide recount procedures and restrictions on private money funding elections under a proposal zooming through the Iowa House and Senate.
It’s the latest in a series of election changes passed by Republicans: House Study Bill 719 comes just one year after Republicans passed a wide-ranging election reform bill that shortened absentee voting windows, restricted ballot drop-boxes and introduced a new penalty for auditor misconduct.
Subcommittees in the House and Senate approved the bill Wednesday, and the House State Government Committee passed it Wednesday evening. Sen. Roby Smith, leader of the bill in the Senate, said he expects the bill to move through the Senate State Government Committee on Thursday.
Auditors warn absentee voter ID requirements will take extra time
Under the bill, Iowa voters would need to write their driver’s license number or voter PIN on the outside of an absentee ballot’s affidavit envelope. The ballot would be considered a defect if the ID number on the outside of the envelope did not match the number on the absentee ballot.
House Democrats argued the requirement would be a detriment to voters. Several cited an absentee ballot identification law in Texas that led to high numbers of absentee ballots being returned.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann said comparing his bill to the Texas proposal was like comparing “apples to a helicopter.” He said the new requirement would lead to more secure elections.
“Every single court case we have won on voter ID,” Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said. “So I do not believe it suppresses a single vote.”
Jamie Cashman, a lobbyist representing the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, said new identification requirements for absentee ballots could create additional hurdles for auditor staff, who are charged with assembling and mailing out the ballots in a certain way.
“We would strongly suggest that you consider changes that would expand the window in terms of mailing the absentees,” Cashman said.
A proposal in the House, House File 2006, would allow county auditors to mail ballots 23 days before an election – an increase of three days from current law. Republican leaders changed the absentee ballot timeline as part of a major election bill in 2021, shortening the window from 29 days to 20 days.
Smith said he was unaware of the House bill, but that he felt 20 days to mail absentee ballots was sufficient.
No private funds for conducting elections
State and county commissioners of elections would be barred from accepting or using any private money to conduct an election under the Senate proposal. Instead, they would rely wholly on public funds, appropriated from the state or federal government.
Many Iowa counties accepted grant funding in 2020 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit. Groups donated to the Center – including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, who gave $350 million – and the Center distributed that money to election offices across the country.
An Iowa group filed a complaint, alleging that the Center for Tech and Civic Life was promoting voting in Democratic-leaning areas, like cities. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
“I do not believe that outside money from billionaires in either party should be used to influence our public, taxpayer-funded elections,” Kaufmann said.
There was broad support for the proposal to disallow private money in future elections, though Democrats said the need for external grants was an indication the state underfunded county auditors.
“What I think is a shame is that our county auditors felt the need to supplement their funds, their public money, with private money in order to be able to ensure that their elections proceeded in a good way, and that everybody who had a right to vote was able to vote,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton.
Close 2020 race prompts recount reconsideration
Iowa’s recount procedures had a trial by fire in 2020, as Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart were locked in a near-tie for the 2nd District Congressional seat.
The recount process unearthed challenges and discrepancies. In three of the most populous counties, recount boards used machines to aid the recount, defying the Secretary of State’s office. Miller-Meeks claimed there were missing votes in the Scott County recount. Hart contested Miller-Meeks’ eventual win, then withdrew her challenge several months later.
“We’re gonna make sure that doesn’t happen again in the state of Iowa,” said Smith, R-Davenport.
The bill sets out a new statewide standard for recounts, including allowing larger recount boards for larger counties and permitting a candidate to request whether the count is done by a machine or by hand.
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