Expecting absentee ballot surge, Iowa election chief seeks emergency leeway

Lawmakers to consider request to prepare and process those ballots early

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks June 5, 2018, at the Office of Chief Information Officer for the State of Iowa'
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks June 5, 2018, at the Office of Chief Information Officer for the State of Iowa’s Security Operations Center in the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Expecting a large volume of absentee ballots as many people avoid in-person voting during the pandemic, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is seeking emergency authority from legislators to give election officials some lead time in preparing and processing those ballots before Election Day.

The Legislative Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting Friday to consider a request from Pate, in his capacity as the state elections commissioner, seeking to expedite the time-consuming process where election officials open mailed envelopes and separate the sealed ballots for counting starting Nov. 2 — the day before the general election, though the results are kept secret until after the polls close.

Under an emergency election directive, Pate also is seeking authority to allow absentee ballots to be mailed to health care facility residents who request them; allow all identification cards that have expired in 2020 to be considered current and valid for in-person absentee balloting and at Election Day polling places; and to allow absentee ballot envelopes to be opened starting the weekend before the Nov. 3 Election Day.

Pate outlined security procedures under which the Absentee & Special Voters Precinct Boards could meet Oct. 31 to open sealed affidavit ballots received by county auditors and remove the secrecy envelope containing the voted ballot — “but under no circumstances shall a secrecy ballot be opened before the board convenes to begin the tabulation of ballots” on Nov. 2.

Each political party may appoint up to five representatives to observe the Oct. 31 process and, if a ballot is not enclosed in a secrecy ballot or if the ballot is folded in such a way that makes the votes cast visible, a procedure is spelled out for two special precinct election officials — one from each political party — to place the ballot in a sealed envelope.

Pate’s request also would allow his office to authorize the emergency relocation of a polling place due to the coronavirus outbreak in compliance with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ public health disaster proclamation.

The Legislative Council is slated to consider Pate’s emergency election directive — the first time such emergency provisions have been requested before a statewide election — during a 2 p.m. conference call.


The Legislative Council is made up of state lawmakers who act as a steering committee when the full Iowa Legislature is not in session.

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

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