Iowa Governor Signs Law Cutting Time Allowed For Voting
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Monday giving Iowans less time to vote, making it harder to vote by mail, and enacting other wide-ranging changes to the state’s election procedures.
Early in-person voting and the mailing of absentee ballots will begin 20 days before Election Day, instead of 29. Mail-in ballots will be due by the time polls close, instead of being accepted nearly a week later if they were in the mail the day before Election Day. Iowa now has one of the shortest mail-in voting periods in the country.
Polls for state and federal elections will close at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. on Election Day.
The new law prevents mass mailings of absentee ballot request forms in most cases, a strategy that was used by counties and the Republican secretary of state in 2020 to promote voting by mail during the pandemic.
It also bars county election officials from sending absentee ballot request forms pre-filled with voters’ personal information. The Trump campaign and Republican Party successfully sued three county auditors over this issue in 2020, resulting in tens of thousands of Iowa voters having their ballot requests thrown out.
It limits who can return a voter’s absentee ballot, allows each county to have one absentee ballot drop box, and enacts criminal penalties for county election officials who disobey state election guidance.
“It’s our duty and responsibility to protect the integrity of every election,” Reynolds said in a news release. “This legislation strengthens uniformity by providing Iowa’s election officials with consistent parameters for Election Day, absentee voting, database maintenance, as well as a clear appeals process for local county auditors. All of these additional steps promote more transparency and accountability, giving Iowans even greater confidence to cast their ballot.”
The bill passed the Iowa Legislature in late February with Republican lawmakers voting for the bill, and all Democrats voting against.
“I applaud Gov. Reynolds and legislative Republicans for showing Iowans that the GOP is listening to their concerns and defending the integrity of our states’ election system,” Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. “While our election systems were already strong, this bill improves upon the work Republicans did in 2017 when they passed voter ID laws.”
In 2017, Republican lawmakers also shortened the early voting period from 40 days to 29. Under the new law, it starts 20 days before Election Day. GOP lawmakers have not argued that shortening the time allowed for voting would enhance election security.
But in expressing support for the bill, some Republicans repeated false claims about voter fraud in other states to justify the election law changes. Bill manager Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, has said Iowa did not have voter fraud problems in 2020.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn, a state representative from Ames, said this is an attempt to suppress the voice of Iowans.
“Today, Kim Reynolds and Iowa Republicans have made it more difficult for Iowans, especially seniors and those with disabilities, to be part of this process and have their voices heard,” Wilburn said in a statement. “Despite Iowans and local election officials’ overwhelming opposition, Kim Reynolds and Republicans in the legislature fast-tracked these dramatic changes.”
The bipartisan organization representing Iowa’s county election officials opposed the bill, and Republican county auditors spoke out against it.
A legal challenge of the new law is expected, just as past changes like the voter ID law and previous reduction of the early voting period were challenged in court.
A post from prominent Democratic voting rights attorney Marc Elias’ Twitter account reads, “Iowa today enacted a law that does nothing other than disenfranchise voters. This shameful law will not go unchallenged in court.”