Republicans attempted "voter caging" in Pottawattamie County

Longtime Pottawattamie County Auditor Marilyn Jo Drake disclosed last week that an unknown group attempted “voter caging” in her county for the first time ever, to her knowledge.

The Brennan Center for Justice defines voter caging as follows:

the practice of sending mail to addresses on the voter rolls, compiling a list of the mail that is returned undelivered, and using that list to purge or challenge voters registrations on the grounds that the voters on the list do not legally reside at their registered addresses.

Supporters of voter caging defend the practice as a means of preventing votes cast by ineligible voters. Voter caging, however, is notoriously unreliable. If it is treated (unjustifiably) as the sole basis for determining that a voter is ineligible or does not live at the address at which he or she registered, it can lead to the unwarranted purge or challenge of eligible voters.

Moreover, these purges or challenges are seldom neutral. Voter caging is almost always pursued with partisan aims, and caging lists are often targeted expressly at registered members of the opposing party.

Tim Rohwer reported Drake’s comments on local “caging” in the Council Bluffs Nonpareil on November 8. The Pottawattamie Auditor’s Office had to deal with some “very unhappy” voters:

“Some group in town sent out material by mail to certain houses and if those occupants didn’t return that material to the group, the group would then consider that house as vacant.”

That meant any absentee ballots returned to the Auditor’s office from those addresses would be contested, meaning the occupants would have to come to the office in person with proof of residency there, she said.

“That really angered people who lived in their homes many years,” Drake said.

Drake, a Republican, said she’d never seen this practice before. She has served as county auditor for the past two decades.

Pottawattamie County Democratic Party Chair Linda Nelson told Rohwer that locals contested about 80 absentee ballots–all submitted by registered Democrats. Pottawattamie County GOP Chair Jeff Jorgenson did not respond to Rohwer’s request for comment. A precinct board charged with reviewing provisional ballots also examined the “caged” ballots on November 8.

Pottawattamie County Republicans were desperate to get rid of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, but he was easily re-elected in Senate district 8 (Council Bluffs and Carter Lake) by more than 2,250 votes (55 percent to 45 percent).  

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