116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Bad Election Bill is here and it's bad.
House File 590 and Senate File 413, sponsored by Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann and Sen. Roby Smith, would cut early voting - mail and in person - to 21 days, down from 29 last year and from 40 in 2016.
In response, my senator, Democratic leader Zach Wahls, introduced a bill that would expand the early voting window to 45 days, which is consistent with what overseas voters get under federal law. It's going nowhere, of course, but it makes the point.
Other lowlights of the Republican bill include a lot of micromanaging of auditors to address imaginary problems like dead voters or auditors not doing list maintenance.
Voters would be moved to inactive status, the first step to cancellation, after missing just one general election, not two. Skip one governor election, which about 20 percent of voters do, and the cancellation clock starts ticking. And the inactivation happens before you're even notified by mail.
In a nod to the Libertarians, petition requirements to get on the ballot are once again raised. This is about a persistent Libertarian candidate has pulled just enough votes away from Republican David Young to allow Democrat Cindy Axne to win two terms in Congress with under 50 percent of the vote.
Requirements for nominating convention attendance are also increased, to a point where even the major parties would have difficulty seating the 25 delegates that would be required to fill a legislative district vacancy. I'll bet most legislators don't have 25 active county central committee members in their districts.
Satellite voting would, to my surprise, not be completely banned, but auditors could not set sites on their own. Only petitioned sites would be allowed. That'll increase costs. Often, people ask nicely for a satellite before petitioning, and we schedule the three or four hours they really want. A petition obligates the auditor to six hours.
The bill would eliminate the use of conventional postmarks to decide if a ballot is on time, and instead would only allow intelligent bar codes. Overseas mail does not have these bar codes.
The first day to request a ballot would move to 70 days before the election, which was the law through 2002. From 2004 to 2016 there was no first day to request a ballot. Then it was moved to 120 days in 2017.
My professional and political feelings differ here. In a college town where every lease turns over on Aug. 1, way-too-soon requests are a problem, and were a big problem in 2004. I was living in a high turnover apartment complex that year, and we were doorknocked in June. People request the ballot then move, and we mail the ballot to a bad address. So I liked the old 70-day law.
But when combined with later laws which require request forms to be handed in within 72 hours, 70 days would kill summer door knocking for absentee requests, which of course (in normal non-COVID years) Democrats rely on more than Republicans.
In an amendment, the bill also closes polls an hour earlier at 8 p.m.
This bill could have been even worse, but it's bad enough.
Twenty-one days is bad for in person early voting. It will mean longer lines and bigger crowds; 21 days is absolutely unacceptable for mailed voting. It means anyone who is out of town or shut in who has any kind of problem - mail delay, spoiled ballot, any problem at all - is just out of luck. Twenty-nine days was barely enough time to fix these problems. We don't even learn about mail delivery problems for several days. Twenty-one days also compresses all the mailing out into a week and a half, burdening both the post offices and the election staffs.
This bill is on the fast track to passage, but there may still be time to get some small improvements. Auditors of both parties across the state are against this. We simply want to do our jobs and help voters, and this proposal makes that harder.
John Deeth lives in Johnson County. He writes at jdeeth.blogspot.com