Iowa lawmakers push bill for election changes
DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa would see new absentee voter ID requirements, statewide recount procedures and restrictions on private election funding under a proposal that would pass through the Iowa House and Senate.
This is the latest in a series of election changes passed by Republicans: Internal Study Bill 719 comes just a year after the Republicans passed a sweeping electoral reform bill which shortened absentee voting windows, restricted ballot boxes and introduced a new penalty for listener misconduct.
The House and Senate subcommittees approved the bill on Wednesday, and the House State Government Committee passed it Wednesday night. Senator Roby Smith, leader of the bill in the Senate, said he expects the bill to be considered by the Senate state government committee on Thursday.
Auditors warn absentee voter ID requirements will take longer
Under the bill, Iowa voters would have to list their driver’s license number or voter PIN on the outside of the affidavit envelope of an absentee ballot. The ballot would be considered defective if the identification number on the outside of the envelope did not match the number on the absentee ballot.
House Democrats have argued that this requirement would be detrimental to voters. Several cited a Texas absentee ballot identification law which led to a high number of mail-in ballots returned.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann said comparing his bill to the Texas proposal was like comparing “apples to a helicopter.” He said the new requirement would lead to more secure elections.
“Every court case we’ve won on voter ID,” Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said. “So I don’t believe that removes a single vote.”
Jamie Cashman, a lobbyist representing the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, said new identification requirements for mail-in ballots could create additional hurdles for auditor staff, who are responsible for assembling and d send the ballots in a certain way.
“We strongly suggest that you consider changes that would expand the window in terms of sending out to absentees,” Cashman said.
A proposal to the House, Home file 2006, would allow county auditors to send out ballots 23 days before an election — a three-day increase from the current law. Republican leaders changed the mail-in voting schedule as part of a major election bill in 2021, shortening the window from 29 days to 20 days.
Smith said he was unaware of the House bill, but felt that 20 days to send mail-in ballots was sufficient.
No private funds to organize elections
State and county election commissioners would not be allowed to accept or use private money to run an election under the Senate proposal. Instead, they would depend entirely on public funds, taken from the state or the federal government.
Many counties in Iowa accepted grants in 2020 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit. Groups have donated to the Center — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, who gave $350 million — and the Center distributed this money to election offices across the country.
A group in Iowa filed a lawsuit, alleging the Center for Tech and Civic Life was promoting voting in Democratic-leaning areas, such as cities. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
“I don’t believe outside money from billionaires of either party should be used to influence our taxpayer-funded public elections,” Kaufmann said.
There was broad support for the proposal to ban private money in future elections, though Democrats said the need for outside grants was an indication that county auditors were underfunded by the state.
“What I find unfortunate is that our county auditors have felt the need to supplement their funds, their public money, with private money so that they can ensure that their elections go the right way and that everyone who was eligible to vote was able to vote,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton.
The end of the 2020 race invites a recount of the re-examination
Iowa’s recount proceedings had a trial by fire in 2020, as Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart were locked in a near tie for the 2nd District congressional seat.
The recount process revealed challenges and discrepancies. In three of the most populous counties, recount councils used machines to facilitate the recount, defying the office of the Secretary of State. Miller-Meeks claimed that votes were missing in the Scott County recount. Hart challenged Miller-Meeks’ eventual victory, then withdrew his challenge several months later.
“We’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the state of Iowa,” said Smith, R-Davenport.
The bill sets a new statewide standard for recounts, including authorizing larger recount councils for larger counties and allowing a candidate to request whether the count is conducted by a machine or by hand.
Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Managing Editor Kathie Obradovich with questions: [email protected] Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.
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