Iowa absentee ballot law improved, new voter suppression plans blocked

Iowa lawmakers adjourned for the year on April 27. Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on some of the legislature’s significant work. Previous reporting related to the 2019 legislative session can be found here.

Republicans have enacted new voting restrictions in some two dozen states this decade. Iowa became part of that trend in 2017 with a law requiring voter ID, shortening the early voting period, and imposing new absentee ballot rules that are on hold pending litigation.

The march toward voter suppression appeared set to continue, with Governor Kim Reynolds winning a four-year term and the GOP retaining control over the Iowa House and Senate last November. Senate State Government Committee chair Roby Smith introduced a horror show election bill days before the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline in March. His Republican colleagues in the upper chamber later approved a bill with most of Smith’s bad-faith proposals.

But in a plot twist, House Republicans agreed to remove all the provisions that would make it harder to vote when House File 692 came back to the lower chamber. The final version, which Reynolds signed on May 16, contained largely technical code revisions and big improvements to the process for tracking and counting absentee ballots.

Follow me after the jump for a short history of a voter suppression tragedy averted.

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Libertarians lose political party status in Iowa

The Libertarian Party of Iowa will become a non-party political organization again after two years on the same legal footing as the Democratic and Republican parties. Unofficial results show Libertarian nominee Jake Porter received 21,095 votes for governor, about 1.6 percent of the statewide vote.

Iowa law defines a political party as an organization whose nominee for president or governor “received at least 2 percent of the total votes cast at the last general election.” Libertarians gained that status after Gary Johnson received nearly 4 percent of the 2016 presidential vote in Iowa.

Although Porter improved slightly on the 20,321 votes Lee Hieb received in the 2014 governor’s race, the Libertarian share of the vote decreased due to unusually high turnout for a non-presidential year in Iowa.

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IA-Gov: New Register poll points to winning paths for Hubbell, Reynolds

If Iowans were voting for governor today, 43 percent would support Democrat Fred Hubbell and 41 percent Governor Kim Reynolds, according to a new poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. Another 9 percent of the 555 likely voters surveyed were undecided, and 7 percent backed Libertarian Jake Porter. The poll validates the view of leading election forecasters that the governor’s race is a toss-up. Selzer’s poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 points.

If this snapshot of the race accurately reflects the views of Iowans likely to vote in November, I’d rather be Hubbell than Reynolds. An incumbent barely above 40 percent despite much higher name recognition than her opponent is not in a strong position. Nevertheless, the Register’s survey points to ways either Reynolds or Hubbell could improve their prospects during the final six weeks of the campaign.

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Iowa Republicans left many Democratic lawmakers unchallenged

The Republican Party is not fielding a candidate in more than two dozen Democratic-controlled Iowa House or Senate districts, while Democrats have left only seven GOP-held legislative seats uncontested. The disparity in party strategies is a departure from the last midterm election, when each party failed to nominate a candidate in more than two dozen state House districts alone.

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Third-party candidates on ballot for all Iowa federal, statewide races (updated)

For the first time, at least one third-party candidate has qualified for every Congressional or statewide office in Iowa. Although third parties haven’t traditionally fared well in Iowa, Libertarians had their best showing ever here in 2016 and have nominated a record number of candidates for this November. Since several U.S. House or statewide races could be very close, even a small percentage of the vote for candidates other than the Democratic or Republican contenders could become significant.

With the filing period for Iowa’s general election ballot closed as of 5:00 pm on August 25, it’s time for an overview of the landscape. The full candidate list is posted on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. UPDATE: John Deeth notes that candidates may have filed on the last day, which wouldn’t be reflected on the version currently posted online. I will update as needed; the key point is that there will be no statewide or Congressional races in Iowa this year with only Republican and Democratic options on the ballot. SECOND UPDATE: The Secretary of State’s office uploaded an amended candidate list on August 27. No new candidates filed for statewide office, but one additional person qualified for the ballot in the fourth Congressional district. Scroll down for further details.

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