IOWA LEGISLATURE

Citing falsehoods, Iowa GOP lawmaker backs voting limits

Bill would cut early voting days, restrict absentee ballots

(Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
(Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — An Iowa lawmaker used the debunked claim of widespread election fraud to explain his support Wednesday for a sweeping election bill that would reduce the early voting period by more than a third and limit the ways voters receive and submit early ballots.

Public hearings were held on the new bill, Senate Study Bill 1199, which was introduced just 24 hours earlier by statehouse Republicans.

After hearing public input, most of which was in opposition, Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said he supports the proposal because “it addresses the controversy that the country is going through right now.”

Schultz was referring to doubt in the 2020 presidential election results falsely sowed by Republican former President Donald Trump, who lost.

Trump repeatedly touted conspiracy theories that there was widespread fraud in the results. His claims were refuted by elections officials of all political stripes in all states, by election security analysts and by more than 60 courts that either rejected or threw out lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies.

Wednesday, Schultz claimed, without providing any evidence, that there were “shady dealing across the country” during the election, and that states that do not continually pass election regulations allow people “to game elections the way they did in cities like Philadelphia.”

No fraud was actually discovered in Philadelphia during the 2020 elections. Legal challenges in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania were rejected by the courts.

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In Iowa, a record 1.7 million voters participated in the Nov. 3 election, a nearly 76 percent turnout, and no major allegations of fraud surfaced.

With many seeking to avoid the risk of catching COVID-19 at the polls on Election Day, more than 1 million people voted absentee by returning ballots through the mail, dropping them off or filling them out at early voting sites.

More than 80 percent of registered Democrats and 54 percent of registered Republicans who participated in the election did so through absentee voting, according to Iowa Secretary of State data. Republicans dominated among Election Day voters.

The proposed legislation would:

• Reduce Iowa’s early voting period from 29 days to 18.

• Stop auditors from sending out absentee ballots until mid-October;

• Bar auditors from mailing absentee ballot request forms for any reason;

• Bar anyone from returning an absentee ballot other than the voter or an immediate family member or care giver;

. Allow only one drop box for early ballots per county, and that drop box must be outside the county auditor’s office.

• Make it more difficult for auditors to establish satellite voting locations.

• Require the state attorney general to investigate all allegations of voter fraud presented.

Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said limiting early voting days to 18 brings Iowa in line with the national average.

According to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, the average starting time for early voting is 22 days before the election.

Smith also made clear the bill is designed to address a small number of county auditors who, during the 2020 election, defied state law by filling out portions of voters’ absentee ballot request forms. Trump’s campaign successfully sued over those forms, forcing thousands of voters to complete new ones.

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Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, one of the county officials who sent the disputed absentee ballot request forms, called the proposed legislation “vindictive.”

“An affront to every county auditor in the state with a passion for creativity, election integrity and increasing voter turnout,” Miller said in an emailed statement.

County elections officials across the state are in widespread opposition to the proposal.

“Two words kind of sum it up: voter suppression,” said Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert.

Leaders of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors wrote to lawmakers that “Iowa has a deserved reputation for fair, efficient and smooth elections. Most of these provisions would threaten rather than help that reputation.”

Many auditors said the compressed early voting window would make it challenging in some cases for auditors to send an absentee ballot, and for voters to receive it, fill it out and return it in time.

“Our staff works hard throughout the year to make voting as accessible to all as possible while also ensuring elections are fair, secure, and valid. These bills will jeopardize auditors’ ability to run elections with the access and security that Iowans are accustomed to,” Cerro Gordo County auditor Adam Wedmore said in an email.

Smith and Schultz signed off on SSB 1199, making it eligible for consideration by the Senate’s state government committee. Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, did not agree to advance it.

An identical companion, House Study Bill 213, was filed in the House.

The Associated Press and Gage Miskimen and Lee Hermiston of The Gazette contributed.

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