Iowa GOP Moves Quickly to Erect Early Voting Barriers

By 
David Pitt
The Associated Press

Des Moines, Iowa – Committees in the Iowa Legislature gave approval last week to a bill that would significantly limit voting by mail and early voting, threaten criminal charges against county auditors who depart from state election guidance and remove voters from the active voter rolls if they miss one general election.

The quick action with only Republican votes made the similar House and Senate versions of the bill eligible for floor debate, and the House held a public hearing on the measure Monday.

The far-reaching bill would cut the mail and in-person early voting period from 29 to 18 days, after Republicans whittled it down from 40 days just four years ago. It would bar counties from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters, tightly regulate how absentee ballots can be returned and potentially reduce many early voting locations.

Democratic Sen. Pam Jochum argued during committee debate that the bill did nothing to protect elections or encourage voting.

“It is an attack on Iowa’s democracy and it is disgusting,” Jochum said.

During a House committee debate, Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann defended the bill, saying it ensures election integrity and the right to vote.

“I adamantly, ardently and judiciously believe that HSB 213 does not suppress one single vote,” Kaufmann said.

Republicans in 33 states have introduced or carried over 165 bills this year that could restrict voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a Washington-based public policy institute.

Many Republicans have said the new bills are meant to shore up public confidence after President Donald Trump and his allies, without evidence, criticized the election as fraudulent. Those claims were turned away by dozens of courts and were made as a group of election officials deemed the 2020 presidential election the “the most secure in American history.”

The Iowa State Association of County Auditors, which represents elections commissioners in all 99 counties, warned the bill would remove local decision-making, threaten severe penalties against election workers who make mistakes and increase their staffing needs and workloads.

Republicans have the votes to pass the bill without Democratic support and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled last week that she was open to reducing mail and early voting opportunities, calling the current 29-day window “a long period of time.”

A record 1.7 million Iowa voters participated in the 2020 presidential election, 76% turnout, and no major allegations of fraud have surfaced. With many seeking to avoid COVID-19 exposure at the polls on Election Day, 1 million people voted absentee by returning ballots through the mail, dropping them off, or casting them at early voting sites.

More than 80% of registered Democrats and 54% of registered Republicans who participated in the election did so through absentee voting, according to Iowa Secretary of State data. While Democrats won early voters, Republicans dominated among Election Day voters.

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