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Iowa House passes ban on absentee ballot drop boxes

 voter registration forms sit on a counter in an elections office
Madeleine C King
The Iowa House passed a bill making changes to absentee voting and other election laws.

Republicans in the Iowa House passed a bill Tuesday that would ban absentee ballot drop boxes and make it harder to challenge Donald Trump’s ability to appear on the ballot in Iowa.

The bill would move up the deadline for returning an absentee ballot by one day, making them due the day before Election Day instead of on Election Day, and allow county auditors to start mailing the ballots to voters two days sooner than current law.

It would also require voters to include their driver’s license or voter identification numbers when returning their absentee ballot. Current law only requires voters to provide those numbers when they request an absentee ballot.

The bill also contains new requirements for absentee ballot envelopes. All of these changes to absentee voting would take effect in 2025, meaning current rules would still apply for the upcoming 2024 election.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said these changes will make it harder for Iowans to vote, especially for those who are elderly or disabled. She said Iowa’s elections were already safe and fair before Republicans got control of the Statehouse in 2017.

“But we have changed those laws every year since I’ve been here,” Nielsen said. “And now we’re adding even more hoops for our voters to jump through just to exercise their constitutional right to a vote.”

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he doesn’t think there is widespread voter fraud in Iowa. But he said the bill would ensure Iowa has the most secure elections in the country.

Kaufmann said it’s a “myth” that a series of Republican-backed voting restrictions have suppressed votes.

“Five hundred and four hours. That is how much time we have to vote here in Iowa under these election integrity bills,” Kaufmann said. “Anyone can vote in that timeframe.”

Democrats pointed to ballots that weren’t counted as a result of Republicans changing the deadline for voting by mail in 2021 as evidence of voter suppression.

Rep. Austin Baeth, D-Des Moines, said laws that are based on unfounded fears about voter fraud “are the fraud.”

“We are taking away the one thing that we so often boast about, about being Americans, being this beacon of democracy,” he said. “And yet it’s bills like this that unravel that time and time again. It’s disgraceful.”

Bill would change laws around ballot objections

The bill would restrict the basis on which Iowans can object to candidates for federal office appearing on the ballot. Only objections related to the candidate’s nominating petition or the U.S. Constitution’s requirements for residency, age and citizenship would be allowed.

“It prevents activists from subverting the will of the people and therefore preventing what would, in my opinion, be a voting insurrection,” Kaufmann said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states cannot bar federal candidates from the ballot based on a federal provision that bans people who “engaged in insurrection” from holding elected office.

The bill would also prevent the state from disqualifying a candidate for federal office because of a felony conviction. People convicted of felonies are legally allowed to run for president under the U.S. Constitution.

Democrats did not mention this portion of the bill during debate Tuesday. But they previously criticized Kaufmann for bringing the proposal forward after he worked for Trump’s presidential campaign in Iowa.

The bill would also ban ranked choice voting in Iowa. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter