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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A last-minute Republican double-cross on absentee voting in Iowa

UPDATE: Governor Kim Reynolds signed this legislation on June 30.

Iowa Republicans have perfected the art of sneaking attacks on constitutional rights or the rule of law into budget bills shortly before adjourning for the year.

Last-minute budget amendments in 2019 sought to shorten the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice’s term, increase the governor’s influence over selecting judges, restrict medical care for transgender Iowans, and stop Planned Parenthood from obtaining sex education grants. Those measures spawned four lawsuits.

Judges will surely hear challenges to legislation Republicans enacted while burning the midnight oil this past weekend. A forthcoming post will address a 24-hour waiting period for abortion, approved during the session’s closing hours.

This post focuses on provisions that would make it harder for Iowans to vote by mail. Marc Elias, one of the country’s most prominent Democratic election lawyers, promised on June 14, “This will not stand. We will sue.”

Don’t bet against him. A Polk County District Court already struck down similar language in a 2017 Iowa law as “irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable.”

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Bipartisan deal on election bill brewing in Iowa House (updated)

House members approved the amended bill by 95 votes to 2 on the evening of June 11. The Senate took up the bill around 12:45 am on June 13. Following a brief debate, during which three Democratic senators spoke against the House version, senators concurred with the House amendment and approved the bill by 31 votes to 16. However, some of the disenfranchising provisions related to absentee ballots surfaced again on June 14, attached to a budget bill. Bleeding Heartland covered that debate here.

Original post follows.

After a contentious debate on June 10, the Iowa Senate approved by 30 votes to 19 a bill including controversial changes to election law. The proposal has drawn extensive local and national media coverage for a provision that would ban Iowa’s secretary of state from sending absentee ballot request forms to any voter who did not request one.

House File 2486 now goes to the lower chamber, where an amendment filed the evening of June 10 suggests Democrats and Republicans have agreed to strip out much of Senate State Government Committee Chair Roby Smith’s handiwork.

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Senate Republicans misstate facts, misread Iowa law on absentee mailing

A wide-ranging election bill is eligible for Iowa Senate debate on June 10. Judging by the party-line vote in the State Government Committee on June 5, the Republican majority seems likely to rubber-stamp House File 2486 and send it to the Iowa House.

State Senator Roby Smith proposed many bad ideas in his 30-page amendment to that previously innocuous bill. The most controversial would prevent Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate from sending an absentee ballot request form to any voter who did not ask for one. Pate’s decision to send such forms to every registered Iowa voter contributed to record-setting turnout for the June 2 primary.

Smith has denied he is trying to suppress voting by mail. But talking points he and a Republican ally floated in recent days do not withstand scrutiny. Pate didn’t need lawmakers to appropriate state funds for the mass mailing, didn’t need legislative approval to send the forms, and didn’t exceed his authority under Iowa law.

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