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Iowa GOP Lawmakers Hear From Public On Elections Bill, Plan To Pass It This Week

In this Oct. 20, 2020, file photo, Kelly Wingfield, of Urbandale, Iowa, fills out his ballot during early voting for the general election in Adel, Iowa. As it has for more than 170 years, The Associated Press will count the vote and report the results of presidential, congressional and state elections quickly, accurately and without fear or favor on Nov. 3 and beyond.
Charlie Neibergall
Iowa Republican lawmakers plan to give final approval to a bill Wednesday that shortens the early voting period and makes other wide-ranging changes to the state’s election laws.

Iowa Republican lawmakers plan to give final approval to a bill Wednesday thatshortens the early voting period and makes other wide-ranging changes to the state’s election laws, sending it to the governor’s desk just one week after the proposal was introduced.

The majority of speakers at a public hearing Monday evening were opposed to the bill.

Janice Weiner of Iowa City said shortening the period for absentee voting will disadvantage snowbirds, victims of domestic violence, and voters in rural areas.

“Just as Sen. Ernst won her election and each of you won yours, President Biden won freely and fairly,” Weiner said. “The remedy for the big lie of a stolen election is not to take an ax to election laws that worked exceedingly well. It’s simply to tell the truth.”

Some Iowans speaking in support of the bill cited unfounded conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud as the reason for supporting these changes. Republican activist Gary Leffler, who posted pictures of himself at the U.S. Capitol insurrection last month, was one of them.

“I was at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Leffler said. “What people are a little bit concerned about is this: voter integrity, the Dominion machines.”

He asked lawmakers to add language to the bill about Dominion voting machines, referring to a conspiracy theory that the company tampered with election results. No evidence has been found to support those claims, and Dominion has filed defamation lawsuits against some prominent Trump allies.

The bipartisan Iowa State Association of County Auditors is opposed to the bill, which proposes criminal penalties for local election officials who don’t follow state guidance.

Adams County Auditor Becky Bissell, a Republican, said the bill would also bar a 93-year-old voter from asking members of her church to help return her absentee ballot.

“Smaller rural counties have a large elderly population, who typically choose to vote absentee because of weather or health concerns,” Bissell said. “Why are we making it harder for them to vote?”

Bissell also raised concerns that shortening the time allowed for voting by mail and not allowing postmarks to mark that the ballot was returned on time could lead to more voters having their ballots rejected.

Law student Emily Russell said she supports the bill because it would stop groups from collecting absentee ballots from several voters.

“We need to face the reality that after recent events surrounding the 2020 election, many Americans do not have faith in our elections,” Russell said. “If we don’t start taking steps to increase public confidence in the integrity of our elections now, all of us will continue to live in a divided society.”

Donald Trump and some GOP leaders repeatedlyspread disinformation about the nation's election systems, and now polling shows that few Republican voters accept that the election results were accurate.

Bryan Jack Holder, a Libertarian who ran for Congress multiple times, said he’s opposed to the bill because it raises the threshold to get on the ballot.

“We the people no longer have representative government nor free and fair elections when independent and third-party candidates are punished with undue burdens and arbitrary and capricious standards to secure ballot access,” Holder said.

The Iowa Senate is expected to pass the elections bill Tuesday, and the House is expected to pass it Wednesday.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said there will be amendments to the bill that include shortening the early voting period from 29 days to 21 days, instead of the original proposal of 18 days. He said the amendment will also allow county auditors to continue to send an absentee ballot request form to voters who request one.

Kaufmann said it will still be easy to vote absentee in Iowa after this bill is passed.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter