Conflict resolved over Iowa absentee ballot drop boxes

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office has confirmed in writing what Secretary of State Paul Pate said last week: county auditors may place secure drop boxes outside government buildings, to make it easier for voters to hand-deliver absentee ballots.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller has opted not to fight the state’s interpretation and will remove three boxes his office had set up near grocery stores in the Cedar Rapids area.

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Iowa secretary of state backpedals on ballot drop box crackdown

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate will not seek to prevent county auditors from setting up drop boxes outside their offices for voters to hand-deliver absentee ballots, he announced on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program on August 28.

The same day, state elections director Heidi Burhans told county auditors in writing that “a no-contact delivery system” for absentee ballots will be allowed “at your office or in the immediate outside area of your office building.”

Pate still maintains county auditors cannot set up drop boxes “throughout the community,” a warning shot at Linn County Auditor Joel Miller.

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Republicans press weak case against Linn, Johnson absentee mailings

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and four Republican Party entities filed suit on August 12, seeking to invalidate tens of thousands of absentee ballot request forms in two large, Democratic-leaning Iowa counties. The plaintiffs allege Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert committed “illegal actions” when they mailed absentee ballot request forms that were pre-printed with voters’ information.

The Republican lawsuit is heavy on political posturing but fails to lay out a convincing legal case.

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Conflict escalates over absentee request mailings in Linn, Johnson counties

Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate appears to be on a collision course with election administrators in Iowa’s second- and fourth-largest counties, which both lean Democratic.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert have proceeded with mailing absentee ballot request forms to every active registered voter in their jurisdictions, with voters’ information filled in. Miller’s office has nearly completed is mailing, and thousands of Linn County voters have already returned their forms. Weipert’s staff mailed the first batch of pre-filled absentee ballot request forms to Johnson County residents on July 27.

The same day, Pate’s staff attorney wrote to Miller and Weipert, asking dozens of questions about the mailings and demanding a broad array of relevant documents. Those letters sounded like the precursor to legal action.

Also on July 27, the lead attorney for the Republican National Committee asked Pate to take emergency action to block the Linn and Johnson County mailings and declare the forms invalid. His letter indicated that the national party may sue to stop Miller and Weipert from giving voters in their counties a supposedly “unconstitutional advantage in the November election.”

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Linn County auditor proceeds with mailing that Republicans tried to stop

Some 63,245 absentee ballot request forms are en route to Linn County residents, with voters’ names, birth dates, addresses, and personal identification numbers filled in. Joel Miller, the top elections official in Iowa’s second-largest county, supervised the delivery of envelopes containing the forms to the U.S. Postal Service Bulk Mail Center in Cedar Rapids on the afternoon of July 20, he told Bleeding Heartland.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate and Republican lawmakers moved on July 17 to block Democratic county auditors from sending pre-filled absentee ballot request forms. However, Miller said his research indicated neither Pate nor state lawmakers had the legal authority to stop his mailing. The Secretary of State’s office did not file for an injunction or serve notice of any impending lawsuit.

Postage for the first installment of Linn County’s mailing will cost $24,412.57, according to Miller. But pre-filling the forms will save his office a significant amount of staff time, as fewer forms will come back incomplete or with the wrong voter PIN.

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