Iowa Republicans ready to back statewide absentee mailing—with a catch

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate kept quiet for weeks.

He said nothing in public as Republican lawmakers sought to stop him from taking steps that contributed to record-breaking turnout in Iowa’s primary election.

He said nothing when legislators agreed to allow him to exercise emergency powers over an election only with approval from the GOP-dominated Legislative Council.

He had no public comment when Governor Kim Reynolds signed that bill.

Nor did he react when Republicans on the Legislative Council voted down a Democratic motion to let the secretary of state send absentee ballot request forms to all registered Iowa voters before the November election.

Pate’s staff did not respond to journalists’ inquiries about whether he would attempt to send a universal absentee request mailing this fall.

The secretary of state finally broke his silence on July 16 with a written proposal to mail every active registered Iowa voter an absentee ballot request form. But that’s not all. Pate’s also seeking to stop county auditors from making it easier for their constituents to return complete and accurate requests for absentee ballots.

Republicans on the Legislative Council will surely approve Pate’s request when they meet on July 17. But it’s not clear the secretary of state has the legal authority to limit what county auditors send voters.

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Iowa SOS will need permission for future emergency election changes

Secretary of State Paul Pate will need approval from the Legislative Council in order to use his emergency powers to alter election procedures, under a bill Governor Kim Reynolds signed on June 25.

While Republicans have a majority on that legislative body, it’s not clear they would use that power to prevent Pate from repeating steps that led to record-breaking turnout for the June 2 primary.

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Iowa lawmakers had their chance. Now governor should issue voting rights order

“Let them vote! Let them vote!” Black Lives Matter protesters chanted a few minutes after Governor Kim Reynolds signed a police reform bill on June 12. Reynolds did not acknowledge hearing them, continuing to pass out pens to advocates of the legislation, which the Iowa House and Senate had unanimously approved the night before.

The protesters want the governor to sign an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to Iowans who have completed felony sentences. Iowa has the country’s strictest felon voting ban, which disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans. Reynolds has resisted calls to issue an executive order, saying she wants the legislature to approve a state constitutional amendment on felon voting instead.

The Iowa legislature adjourned for the year on June 14 without the constitutional amendment clearing the Senate.

For many thousands of Iowans with felony convictions, an order from Reynolds provides the only path to voting before 2024. She should issue one as soon as possible.

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Who’ll stop the rain

Randy Richardson: Iowa’s “rainy day” funds were created with a promise, to be used on a rainy day. Legislators should tap them now to fully fund schools. -promoted by Laura Belin

For the past year Republicans have touted their record-breaking commitment to funding education in Iowa. They have done this despite the fact that State Supplemental Aid only increased by an average of 1.73 percent from 2011 to 2018. That is slightly below the 1.81 percent average annual rate of inflation during that same time period. (School district costs typically rise by 3-4 percent annually.)

When questioned about this disparity, Republicans quickly revert to their consistent talking point that their funding “is responsible, sustainable, and demonstrates that education is a top priority.”

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What took them so long?

Better late than never. Governor Kim Reynolds recommended on March 15 that Iowa schools close for four weeks to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The same day, Republican legislative leaders announced the House and Senate will suspend operations for at least 30 days after meeting on March 16 “to consider resolutions regarding continuity of government to ensure delivery of essential services to Iowans.” Clerks and secretaries have been told they will be paid through April 21, but “March 16 will be your last day of employment.”

While several state legislatures around the country hit the pause button last week, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver waited for recommendations from the governor or the Iowa Department of Public Health.

As recently as the late afternoon on March 13, Reynolds was assuring the public, “At this time, Iowa is not experiencing community spread of the virus.” Such a definitive statement was not warranted, given how few people had been tested for COVID-19.

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Iowa Democrats postpone county conventions; No changes at legislature

UPDATE: The Iowa legislature on March 16 suspended the 2020 session for at least 30 days. The Iowa Democratic Party sent guidance to county chairs the State Central Committee on March 23 on conducting county conventions “using an absentee system.” I’ve enclosed that document at the end of this post.

The Iowa Democratic Party is postponing county conventions scheduled for March 21 “to a future date to be determined,” the party announced today.

But for now, leaders of the Iowa legislature have no plans to pause activities at the state Capitol. They should reconsider.

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