ELECTION 2020

Court rulings add to confusion over Iowa absentee voting

Supreme Court on Tuesday puts judge's ruling on hold

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller listens at a Sept. 9 hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City, where the Re
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller listens at a Sept. 9 hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City, where the Republican National Committee was contesting the legality of absentee ballot request forms sent out to voters that were prepopulated with voter information, such as the voter’s PIN and driver’s license number. Judges in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties ruled in favor of the Republicans, invalidating tens of thousands of absentee ballot requests. On Monday, a judge blocked Iowa’s secretary of state from barring county auditors from mailing absentee ballot request forms to Iowa voters containing prefilled information, but on Tuesday the Iowa Supreme Court granted a request from Republicans to stay the judge’s ruling. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Both sides in a legal clash over Iowa’s absentee voting laws were able to agree on one thing Tuesday — the court fight has become increasingly confusing and the onus is on voters to navigate the uncertainty to make sure their ballots count.

Judge Robert B. Hanson of Iowa’s 5th Judicial District on Monday temporarily blocked Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate — as state elections commissioner — from enforcing an order barring county auditors from mailing absentee ballot request forms to Iowa voters containing prefilled information.

But the Iowa Supreme Court on Tuesday swiftly granted a request from Republican groups to stay Hanson’s ruling, putting it on hold pending further proceedings.

Three Iowa judges — in Johnson, Linn and Woodbury counties — previously had granted requests from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and Iowa Republicans for three temporary injunctions against three Democratic county auditors to invalidate tens of thousands of forms mailed by them that already had filled in some voter information.

The county auditors were directed to notify those voters and ask them to instead return a new “blank” form that will be sent to them by the Iowa secretary of state, the county auditor or another organization.

“This ruling only adds further confusion to voters who have been misled by unlawful decisions by the Johnson, Linn and Woodbury county auditors,” Pate said of Monday’s court ruling.

“Additionally, it has no bearing on previous court rulings that forbid those auditors from mailing prefilled absentee ballot request forms.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

According to Pate, the Iowa Code and Iowa courts have made clear that the voter — not the county auditor — shall provide their voter identification number on absentee ballot request forms.

The secretary of state said voters in Johnson, Linn and Woodbury counties who choose to vote absentee should send in request forms that were not prefilled by their county auditors as “the best way to ensure their vote will count” and not be challenged in a highly contentious election season.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said early Tuesday — before the Supreme Court move — he was aware of the latest court ruling, which he said “basically invalidates the directive that the lawsuits were based upon.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.