Secretary of state seeks first emergency voting change under new law

    An absentee ballot request form sent out before Iowa's June 2 primary election. (Photo by Iowa Secretary of State's Office)

    Secretary of State Paul Pate has drafted an emergency order to allow active-duty military voters and U.S. citizens who are overseas to cast their ballots electronically during the July 7 primary elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    It’s now up to a panel of legislators to decide whether the order can be issued.  That’s because earlier this month, the Legislature approved Senate File 2486 and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it last week. The legislation restricts the Secretary of State’s powers to make changes in the conduct of elections.

    The Legislative Council, a 24-member panel of Iowa legislators, will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to consider the emergency order. If the council rejects Pate’s order, it can propose its own language or simply deny military and overseas voters the option of electronic voting.

    Pate’s order states that international mail has been severely impacted by the pandemic and uniformed and overseas citizens rely on international mail to receive and return their ballots.

    The order also states that in order to vote electronically, these voters would have to give up their right to a secret ballot by signing an affidavit to that effect.

    Republicans in the Legislature approved Senate File 2486 over the objections of Democrats and county auditors, who praised Pate’s handling of the June 2 primary election. Republicans supporters of the legislation said their goal was to prevent fraud.

    Pate, a Republican, sent out absentee ballot request forms to all active registered voters in Iowa to encourage voting by mail during the height of the pandemic.  The state experienced record turnout for a primary election, with about 80% of ballots cast by mail.

    This is the first emergency election order that Pate has submitted to the Council under the new law.

    Here is a list of the primaries scheduled for July 7, according to the Secretary of State’s Office:

    • Appanoose County – Special Election for the City of Mystic (Council Vacancy)
    • Black Hawk County – Special Election for the City of Cedar Falls (Council Vacancy)
    • Monroe County – Special Election for the City of Albia (Council Vacancy)
    • Plymouth County – Special Election for the City of Craig (Council Vacancy)
    • Pottawattamie County – Special Election for the City of Shelby (Council Vacancy)
    • Shelby County – Special Election for the City of Shelby (Council Vacancy)
    • Woodbury County – Special Election for the County of Woodbury (Supervisor Vacancy)
    Kathie Obradovich
    Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.