Paul Pate blew off warning Iowa unlawfully disenfranchises voters

Eight weeks ago, two voting rights organizations warned Secretary of State Paul Pate that “Iowa’s voter list maintenance practices are arbitrary and unlawful.” They offered to work with his staff to bring Iowa into compliance with federal and state law, Jason Clayworth reported for the Des Moines Register on August 7.

Pate didn’t even acknowledge their letter.

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2019 Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on the legislature’s significant actions during the session that ended on April 27. Previous posts related to the work of the Iowa House or Senate can be found here.

Republicans showed little interest in amending the Iowa Constitution during the 2019 session. Only one amendment passed both chambers. If and when that proposal appears on a statewide ballot, it will spark a costly and divisive campaign about gun rights and regulations.

The Senate and House debate over the pro-gun amendment is the focus of the first half of this post. Arguments raised on both sides will surely return in future television commercials and mass mailings.

The rest of the post reviews this year’s unsuccessful attempts to change the constitution. One amendment (backed by Governor Kim Reynolds) made it through the Iowa House, and four others advanced from a House or Senate committee but did not come up for a floor vote. The rest did not get through a committee, even though some of the same ideas went further last year.

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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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Reynolds takes solid step toward expanding voting rights

Since Governor Terry Branstad signed an order in January 2011 to end automatic restoration of voting rights for Iowans who have completed felony sentences, only 328 affected people have regained their franchise: 206 through the end of Branstad’s tenure, and 122 since Governor Kim Reynolds became the state’s leader in May 2017. Yet an estimated 52,000 Iowans are ineligible to vote because of a criminal record.

A constitutional amendment moving through the state legislature would end the lifetime ban for most Iowans with felony convictions but could not take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Today Reynolds announced several steps aimed at increasing the number of Iowans who could participate in the electoral process sooner than that.

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Iowa House bill would ensure more absentee ballots are counted

The controversial 2018 election result in Iowa House district 55 has inspired two legislative proposals related to late-arriving absentee ballots. The House State Government Committee on March 5 advanced a bill designed to enfranchise more Iowans who voted by mail, with uniform rules for all 99 counties.

The leader of the Iowa Senate State Government Committee would move in the opposite direction, excluding all ballots that arrive after election day, even if envelope markings could prove voters mailed them on time. That approach appears to be a non-starter for House Republicans.

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