Iowa has made it harder to vote, study shows

September 25, 2022 9:00 am

“I voted today” stickers on the table at Des Moines Precinct 13 on June 7, 2022. (Photo by Jim Obradovich for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Since the 2020 election, it got harder to vote in Iowa, relative to other states, according to a new study.

The Cost of Voting Index, which measures the ease of voting in all 50 states, ranked Iowa 23rd in the nation in its 2022 report, a decline of four places.

The new study was published in the Election Law Journal. The authors said they were updating their work in the wake of numerous changes to state election laws after the 2020 election.

The report said that in 2021 alone, 19 states passed at least 33 new laws making it more difficult to vote, while 25 states passed 62 laws that reduced the cost of voting.

Iowa was one of those states that put in place new restrictions. Republicans who control state government made several changes in 2021, including reducing the number of early and absentee voting days from 29 to 20.

The 2020 election presented numerous challenges across the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic; then, after the election, former President Donald Trump falsely claimed the presidency had been stolen from him.

“Many states made voting easier by codifying changes in response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic,” the new report said. “Other states, over concerns about voter fraud and seemingly at the prompting of former President Donald Trump, took a step backward and made voting more difficult.”

In Iowa, Republicans said they needed to make changes in order to restore voter confidence, but Democrats, who opposed the changes, said they would simply raise barriers to voting.

The new study said that Vermont made the biggest move toward making it easier to vote, going from 23rd to 3rd place, while Wisconsin went the farthest in the other direction, going from 38th to 47th place.

“Besides Wisconsin,” the study said, “Florida (28th to 33rd), Georgia (25th to 29th), and Iowa (19th to 23rd) will each make it more difficult to vote, relatively speaking, than was the case in 2020.”

The study noted that neither Florida nor Iowa have adopted an automatic voter registration process, which many other states are doing. It also cited changes to laws governing drop boxes and restrictions related to absentee ballot procedures.

The change to the voting window in Iowa also “undoubtedly” is being captured in the new index scores, Scot Schraufnagel, a political science professor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and one of the study’s authors, said in an email Wednesday.

The Cost of Voting Index measures 10 major areas. They include voter registration, voter ID laws, early voting, poll hours and voting inconvenience. Voter registration deadlines and early voting days weigh heaviest in determining the cost of voting.

Oregon, which has an all vote-by-mail process, was ranked the easiest state in which to vote. The authors said it also has the most progressive voter registration process in the country. The state of Washington is the next easiest state in which to vote, the study said, while Mississippi and New Hampshire ranked at the bottom of the index.

Illinois ranked 11th in the country.

Over the years, Iowa’s ranking in the index has dropped significantly as changes have been made to voting laws.

In 2016, Iowa was ranked among the top 10 easiest states in the country in which to vote. However, that changed after Republicans passed a law in 2017 that, among other things, put in place a voter ID requirement and reduced the number of days for early and absentee voting from 40 days to 29 days.

About this column

This column was originally published by Ed Tibbetts’ Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Ed Tibbetts
Ed Tibbetts

Ed Tibbetts, of Davenport, has covered politics, government and trends for more than three decades in the Quad-Cities. A former reporter and editorial page editor for the Quad-City Times, he now is a freelance journalist who publishes the Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. He is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.