Keep early ballots sealed until election day

On Wednesday IowaVoter posted a diary here about a bill passed by the Iowa House to allow absentee ballots to be counted before election day. Click here to read the text of HF 670, formerly known as HSB 133.

IowaVoter uses humor to raise valid concerns about this bill. Quite a few people could be tipped off about the early voting results, and if they leak the information, some candidates could gain an advantage on election day. Lots of state legislative races in Iowa were decided by very narrow margins last November, and it is not uncommon for a local or county-level race to be decided by a handful of votes.

I can’t see any public interest served by this bill. Even though early voting has grown in Iowa, with about a third of the electorate casting early ballots last fall, we still got our election results promptly.

Mr. desmoinesdem pointed me to this site, which shows that only California and Colorado allow early ballots to be counted before election day. Many states don’t allow them to be opened until after the polls close on election day (Iowa law currently allows counting to begin the morning of election day).

I can understand why many would support early counting of absentee ballots in a huge state like California. Even though California election officials were allowed to start counting on October 25 of last year, some had hundreds of thousands of votes still uncounted after election day. But California has three counties more populous than all of Iowa, six more counties with at least 1 million residents, plus another 12 counties that have more residents than Iowa’s largest county (Polk).

There is no logistical need for county auditors in Iowa to open the early ballots before election day. I would rather wait a few more hours for the final results than open the door to political mischief by insiders.

HF 670 is worse than a solution in search of a problem–it’s a solution that could spark allegations of fraud and misconduct every time we have a very close election outcome. The Iowa Senate should reject this bill. If they pass it, Governor Culver should veto it.

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