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Iowa secretary of state candidates disagree on how to handle voting restrictions, election deniers

Joel Miller, the Democrat running for secretary of state, spoke on the first Saturday of the state fair.
Lucius Pham
IPR News
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate in the 2022 election.

Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate and Democratic challenger Joel Miller disagreed during a Friday taping of Iowa Press on how vocal Iowa’s top election official should be in the lawmaking process and in pushing back on false election claims from prominent politicians.

Pate is running for a fourth term as secretary of state and was previously the mayor of Cedar Rapids and a state lawmaker. Miller has been Linn County auditor since 2007 and was previously mayor of Robins and served in the military.

Miller said Pate should be doing more to disavow people like Rudy Giuliani and former President Donald Trump who have denied and tried to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.

“You’ve done nothing to disavow what they have been saying,” Miller said. “And there’s a direct line from those people to Mike Lindell to Dr. Doug Frank,who came to Buchanan County about a month ago and started, basically, conspiracy theories that resulted in voter challenges across the state, including 119 in my county that I have to hold hearings on next Monday.”

Pate said he works on a regular basis to fight misinformation and disinformationabout Iowa’s elections, which he said is now the biggest challenge facing his office. His office created an election security web page that dispels common false claims about voting.

“As secretary of state, you don’t get to wear a team jersey, you’re the referee,” Pate said. “So you follow the laws and the rules that you have on the books. And when you look at the last presidential election, if you follow the laws on the books like we did here in Iowa, then we have a legitimate winner, and we need to recognize that.”

Pate also committed to certifying the results of the 2024 presidential election in Iowa. And he said Iowa has been ranked third best in the countryat election administration.

paul pate
Kate Payne
Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate

Miller said he wants to work to make voting easier. He said Pate should’ve tried to stop Republican lawmakers from cutting the amount of time Iowans have to vote, and said Pate’s office didn’t publicly weigh in on the 2021 bill.

“Yet in 2017, he was very proud to say that he was…for voter ID and registered on those bills,” Miller said. “Why the lack of interest in the 2021 election laws that had the most impact on us? That’s a problem.”

Pate said it’s his job to administer the laws made by the Iowa Legislature.

Absentee ballots must now be received by the county auditors by the time polls close on Election Day. Previously, ballots just had to be put in the mail by the day before Election Day and would still be counted if they arrived a few days after Election Day.

Miller said this change has prevented some votes from being counted.

Pate did not give a direct answer when asked on Iowa PBS if the new law is disenfranchising voters. He said voters can use the state’s absentee ballot tracking system to see if their ballot will arrive on time, and then can vote in person if it doesn’t.

“We have deadlines in our lives everywhere,” Pate said. “Everything we do is a deadline. And this is no different. There’s a deadline, which means we as election officials, the county auditor’s responsibility, and my office’s assisting in that is educating the public, making sure they know what has to be done to be successful as voters.”

But not all Iowans who are out of town or have a disability won’t necessarily get to vote in person if their absentee ballot doesn’t make it on time. Miller said voters can’t control how long the postal service takes to deliver their ballot, and the new law has significantly restricted the timeframe for voting by mail.

Pate also accused Miller of not following election laws in his role as Linn County Auditor. In 2020,a judge ordered Miller to toss out absentee ballot request forms that Miller’s office had pre-filled with voters’ personal information to make voting by mail easier. That same year, Pate and Miller were at odds over ballot drop boxesthat Miller had placed outside of grocery stores in Linn County.

Pate sent absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters in 2020to make voting safer in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the forms did not contain voters’ personal information.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter