Iowa elections director misstates law in warning to county auditors

A showdown is brewing between the Iowa Secretary of State’s office and county auditors planning to make it easier for voters to submit accurate and complete absentee ballot request forms for the 2020 general election.

A top deputy to Secretary of State Paul Pate warned county auditors this week not to mail absentee ballot request forms with the voter personal identification number (PIN) field filled in.

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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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Racial disparities already apparent in Iowa's COVID-19 data

For the first time on April 14, the Iowa Department of Public Health released information about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections by race and ethnicity. The results won’t surprise anyone who has been following the news from other parts of the country: a disproportionate number of Iowans with confirmed COVID-19 infections are African American or Latino.

Activists and some Democratic legislators had pushed for releasing the demographic information after a senior official said last week the public health department had no plans to publish a racial breakdown of Iowa’s COVID-19 numbers.

Meanwhile, Iowa reported its largest daily number of new COVID-19 cases (189) on April 14, fueled by the outbreak that has temporarily shut down a Tyson pork processing plant in Columbus Junction (Louisa County). At her daily press conference, Governor Kim Reynolds again praised efforts by meatpacking companies to slow the spread of the virus and keep workers and the food supply chain safe. However, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has highlighted unsafe workplace conditions for employees of meatpacking plants, a group that is disproportionately Latino.

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Highlights, dog whistles from an Iowa Senate debate

Matt Chapman closely follows Iowa legislative affairs, especially bills like the one discussed here. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowa Senate Republicans have approved another bill targeting people receiving public assistance, such as Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Senate File 2272, which passed along party lines February 26, would require the state to contract for extra screening, looking for evidence of Iowans enrolled in more than one state. Labor and Business Relations Committee chair Jason Schultz introduced and floor-managed the bill. He has been attempting to pass versions of this legislation for years and sponsored five bills in a similar vein in 2019.

The vendor that would receive the contract, LexisNexis, does similar work in other states, often flagging 15 percent of beneficiaries as possibly fraudulent. In the five southern states that have adopted this screening, further checks have confirmed dual participation by just 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of enrollees, on average.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2020

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2020 session on January 13 with 32 Republicans and 18 Democrats. Eleven senators are women (six Democrats and five Republicans), up from six women in the chamber before the 2018 elections.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. A few committees have new Republican leaders. On the Democratic side, Eric Giddens now represents the Senate district where Jeff Danielson resigned last year.

A few words about demographics: all current state senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first. No Asian American has served in the Iowa Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Taylors (both Democrats). As for first names, there are three Marks, three Zachs, and two men each named Dan, Jim, Tim, and Tom.

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Elizabeth Warren drawing support across Iowa Democratic spectrum

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s numbers have tapered somewhat in polls of the Democratic presidential race nationally and in Iowa over the past two months. But it would be a mistake to conclude she can’t win the Iowa caucuses.

A large share of caucus-goers have yet to commit to a candidate. Warren’s high-profile supporters, including the latest batch, point to factors that will keep her in contention as many Iowans decide over the next 40 days.

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