116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller has criticized Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate for deactivating voters who didn’t vote in the 2020 general election.
Miller, now running against Pate in November, returned to this beef in an Aug. 8 tweet.
“Over 80% of @lc_elections voters retroactively inactivated by @IowaSOS8 in 2021 are still INACTIVE one year later. Pate and @IowaGOP pushed those voters one step closer to being canceled because those voters are not ‘their’ voters. I want all eligible to vote!“
The Fact Checker will check how many Linn County voters made inactive in 2021 still are inactive today and the political affiliation — if known — of the voters moved from active status. We’ll also look into whether these voters were “pushed” closer to having their registration canceled.
In 2021, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature passed Senate File 413, which requires a voter be marked as inactive if the individual did not vote in the most recent general election. Before the bill, voters had to miss two general elections in a row to be marked inactive.
The law also put in place stronger penalties for election officials who did not perform “voter list maintenance,” among other requirements.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill March 8, 2021. By April 2021, the Secretary of State’s Office had sent 294,148 no-activity notices to voters around the state.
This included more than 18,000 Linn County voters and more than 10,000 in Johnson County.
Miller and Pate differ on the number of Linn County voters declared inactive, although not substantially. Miller says there were 18,506, Pate says 18,690.
Claim 1: Miller says 15,062 of those Linn County voters, or 81 percent, still were inactive as of Aug. 8.
Another 2,515, or 14 percent, have reactivated their status, according to a report Miller said was prepared for him by Linn County Elections Services.
Pate’s office says it’s true more than 15,000 of the original 18,000-plus inactive voters still are inactive.
But that 15,000 number includes more than 3,000 who have made a change in their voter registration since March 26, 2021, which means they are inactive for another reason besides failure to vote in the 2020 election, Secretary of State’s Office Spokesman Kevin Hall said.
Grade: Miller’s claim 80 percent of Linn County voters deactivated in March 2021 as part of SF413 still are inactive is correct. We give him an A.
Claim 2: Miller said the status change “pushed those voters one step closer to being canceled …”
Inactive voters may return to active status by requesting an absentee ballot, voting in an election, registering again, or updating voter registration.
But if a registered voter has been inactive for two successive general elections, their registration can be canceled, according to Iowa Code. So Miller is right the deactivation moved those voters one step closer.
Claim 3: Miller claims the GOP approved legislation to deactivate voters who did not vote in the 2020 general election because those voters weren’t “their voters,” meaning Republicans.
Of the 18,506 Linn County voters deactivated in 2021, the county reported the following party affiliations:
- No party: 8,990 (49 percent)
- Democrat: 5,772 (31 percent)
- Republican: 3,416 (18 percent)
- Other: 328 (2 percent)
Pate’s office said it did not have any reason to think this breakdown was wrong.
While the bulk of Linn County voters whose status was downgraded in 2021 were independents, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a substantial margin.
Democrats make up a smaller share of the deactivated list than they do of active voters as of this month, when 39 percent of Linn County’s voters are registered as Democrats.
Whether the GOP made the 2021 change with the intent of making it harder for Democrats to vote is harder to prove.
The sweeping election reform law, which also shortened early voting periods and closed polls earlier on Election Day, mirrored bills in other Republican-controlled legislatures. The Iowa GOP argued at the time the database purges were necessary to reduce voter fraud — which has not been a problem in Iowa.
But the list of voters moved to inactive status in 2021 also includes a lot of Republican and No Party voters.
Grade: We give Miller a C on this claim, which we consider half true.
Pate didn’t respond to The Gazette’s question in March 2021 about whether he advised the governor to sign or veto the bill. He issued this statement at the time:
“The Iowa Legislature makes the laws. It is our job as election officials to follow those laws. Iowa is consistently one of the top states in the nation for voter registration and participation and I'll keep striving to make us number one. My office will continue providing resources to help every eligible Iowan be a voter and understand any changes in election law. Our goal has always been to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”
It’s true “voter list maintenance” in 2021 pushed 294,000 Iowans closer to having their registrations canceled and the vast majority still haven’t taken steps to become active voters. But whether it was Pate’s or the GOP’s intent to cancel these voters because a large share were Democrats isn’t confirmed.
Weighing two A’s and a C, we give Miller a B overall.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate or officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in advocacy ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan and Marissa Payne. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan.
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