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Iowa Judge Orders Johnson County To Invalidate 16,000 Pre-Filled Ballot Request Forms

District Court Judge Ian Thornhill speaks in Johnson County Court during a hearing over absentee ballot request forms Sept. 9, 2020.
Courtesy of KGAN livestream
District Court Judge Ian Thornhill speaks in Johnson County Court during a hearing over absentee ballot request forms last Wednesday.

A judge has ordered Johnson County to invalidate more than 16,000 requests for absentee ballots that the county auditor pre-filled with voters’ personal information and voter ID numbers.

It’s the third legal victory for President Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee, and other Republican groups in a series of three lawsuits they filed in Iowa this summer against the auditors of Johnson, Linn and Woodbury counties.

They argued those local election officials—all Democrats—violated the Iowa secretary of state’s directive to only send blank ballot request forms.

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Susan Nehring argued in court last week that the process by which the secretary of state's emergency election directive was approved was based on an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers in state government.

District Court Judge Ian Thornhill, who previously invalidated nearly 50,000 ballot requests in Linn County, agreed with the Republican groups a second time.

“This should effectively close the case on rogue county auditors trying to skirt Iowa’s widely-supported voter ID laws,” Republican Party of Iowa spokesperson Aaron Britt said in a statement.

The Johnson County auditor’s office said Monday that more than 16,000 Johnson County voters had returned the pre-filled forms. They had mailed more than 65,000 pre-filled forms.

“I’m obviously disappointed in the ruling,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said in an email. “At this time we will weigh our legal options and look to proceed.”

He said he will start notifying affected voters and sending new ballot request forms soon.

In total, the three court rulings have invalidated about 80,000 pre-filled ballot request forms submitted by voters in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties.

Affected voters will be contacted by their county auditor and will be asked to submit a second ballot request form if they still wish to vote by mail.

These court rulings do not affect voters in any counties other than Linn, Woodbury and Johnson counties. They also don’t affect voters who filled in their own ID number on a ballot request form, as opposed to submitting one that was completely pre-filled by their county auditor.

Voters may also use a ballot request form that came from a different source, such as the Iowa secretary of state. The deadline for requesting a ballot is Oct. 24. County auditors start mailing ballots to voters Oct. 5.

Democrats filed a lawsuit two weeks ago asking the courts to ensure the pre-filled ballot requests are considered valid.

They argue that Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s emergency election directive was unconstitutional, and that he overstepped his authority in ordering county officials to only send blank ballot request forms.

According to court records, a hearing in that case is scheduled for Sept. 18.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter