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Iowa GOP Lawmakers Send Bill Cutting Time For Early, Mail Voting To Governor

Chris Helps, of Earlham, Iowa, gets his hands sanitized by polling place volunteer Frank Hayer, right, during early voting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Adel, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall
Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives passed a major elections bill that cuts the time allowed for voting by mail, early in-person voting, and Election Day voting.

Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives passed a major elections bill Wednesday that cuts the time allowed for voting by mail, early in-person voting, and Election Day voting, sending the bill to the governor’s desk one week after introducing it.

The bill passed on a party-line vote of 57 to 37 after about five hours of debate that mostly consisted of Democrats giving examples of how the changes could limit Iowans’ ability to vote.

Under the bill, early in-person voting and the mailing of absentee ballots would begin 20 days before Election Day, instead of the current 29. Republican lawmakers shortened that from 40 days four years ago.

While the in-person early voting period would be in line with the national average, it would be one of the shortest timeframesfor mailing absentee ballots in the country.

Mail-in ballots would be due by the time polls close on Election Day, with exceptions for overseas military members and domestic violence survivors. Current law says ballots must be mailed by the day before Election Day, and received by noon on the following Monday.

Polls would close on Election Day at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. during state primary and general elections.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said the bill is about election integrity and “has nothing to do with fraud.”

“It’s going to remain really easy to vote after this legislation’s signed into law,” Kaufmann said. “This protects Iowans’ right to vote, and it adds certainty and security to it. This bill does not suppress one single vote.”

He said the 2020 election in Iowa was successful, but there are voters who don’t trust the election system.

Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said the change to the mail-in ballot deadline means some Iowans who voted on time will have their ballots rejected because of mail delays.

“Iowans’ freedom to vote shouldn’t be dependent on whether or not a ballot cast on Monday arrives at the auditor’s office on Tuesday,” Konfrst said. “Iowans’ freedom to vote shouldn’t be left to chance.”

The shortened timeframe could also make it nearly impossible for voters to correct any problems with their ballot request or absentee ballot if their county auditor has to contact them by mail about the issue.

The deadlines for requesting an absentee ballot and for voter pre-registration would be moved to 15 days before Election Day, instead of the current 10 days for general elections.

The bill also proposes felony charges for county election officials who don’t follow election guidance from the secretary of state or fail to perform any election duty. This is a response to three county auditors who sent pre-filled absentee ballot request forms to voters in 2020 that were then invalidated by the courts.

Senate debate

Republican in the Iowa Senate passed the bill Tuesday on a party-line vote of 30 to 18.

During the debate, Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, repeated false claims about voter fraud in other states to justify these changes to Iowa’s election laws.

“Millions and million and millions of people believe there was fraud,” Carlin said. “Most of us in my caucus, in the Republican caucus, believe the election was stolen.”

Democrats said Republicans believe that because former President Trump lied to them about voter fraud. Courts in multiple states and the U.S. attorney general appointed by Trump rejected claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election for lack of evidence.

“The legislation is not based in reality. It rests on lies,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “It does not solve any real problems. It creates problems. The bill does not make voting more secure. It just makes it far more difficult.”

Iowans broke the state’s voter turnout record in 2020, and a record number of Iowans voted absentee, which includes early in-person and mail voting. Republicans won up and down the ballot in the state, and the Republican secretary of state said Iowa’s election was secure.

These changes will go into effect immediately if Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the bill into law. Last week, she said she is “willing to take a look at” proposed changes to the early voting period.

The bill also…

Prohibits county auditors from sending absentee ballot request forms to voters who didn’t request them. Allows county auditors to send a form to a voter who specifically requests one.

Bans county auditors from sending absentee ballot request forms pre-filled with voters’ personal information.

A voter’s registration will be marked inactive if they did not vote in the most recent general election or update their registration

Limits who can help return a voter’s absentee ballot. Current law allows voters to designate anyone to return their ballot.

Establishes additional requirements and penalties for election officials to perform voter list maintenance.

Enacts a “sore loser” provision that prevents a candidate who loses a Republican or Democratic primary from running as a third-party candidate in the same election.

Bans the secretary of state from sending absentee ballot request forms to voters unless the governor declares a public health emergency and lawmakers authorize the mailing.

Workers entitled to three hours off work to vote under current law will get two hours off instead.

Provides for absentee voting for Iowans admitted to hospitals close to Election Day.

Increases requirements for candidates to get on the ballot.

Directs county auditors to inform voters of how they can correct problems with their absentee ballot.

Shortens the time period to request an absentee ballot from 120 days before Election Day to 70 days.

Allows each county to have one absentee ballot drop box and establishes security requirements.

Ends county auditor discretion in setting up satellite early voting sites. Early voting sites outside the county auditor’s office would have to be requested by petition.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter