Government

Trump, GOP groups intervene in challenge to Iowa absentee ballot request law

#x201c;I Voted Today#x201d; stickers are seen on a table at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City for voters on Tuesda
“I Voted Today” stickers are seen on a table at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City for voters on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and other Republican groups are intervening in a lawsuit they say could weaken Iowa’s protections on absentee voting.

The lawsuit, brought by the Latino civil rights organization LULAC and a Washington nonprofit, seeks to overturn an Iowa law that prevents election officials from filling out omitted or incorrect information on absentee ballots.

The lawsuit is part of “Democrats’ assault on the integrity of our elections,” according to the groups that include the Republican Party of Iowa, National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Iowans overwhelmingly support voter ID laws to uphold the integrity of our elections,” said Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann. “This lawsuit seeks to take us in the opposite direction.”

The GOP groups also called on Secretary of State Paul Pate to order two “rogue” counties to stop sending absentee ballot applications with the voters’ information, such as date of birth and voter identification number, prepopulated.

Linn County is one of the “rogue” counties. Democrat Auditor Joel Miller already has mailed absentee ballot request forms to active voters. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert, also a Democrat, began a similar mailing Monday.

Miller called it “as wrong as it is unprecedented” for GOP groups to pressure Pate “to impede our efforts to make voting easier and safer for Iowans during a pandemic.”

Iowans, he said, have a “hard-earned, time-tested tradition of holding fair and free elections, uncontaminated by the efforts of outside pressure groups.”

That unique tradition is a part of what we sometimes call the ‘Iowa Way,’” he added.

Consistent with that tradition, Miller said auditors in Linn and Johnson counties want to give active voters “all reasonable options to assure that every vote counts and can be cast in the safest ways possible.”

Pate, a Republican, supports county auditors “making absentee ballot request forms easily available to every eligible citizen, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

However, Pate said, “pre-filling absentee ballot request forms with voters’ personal identifying information gives critics of absentee voting an opportunity to question the validity of election results in those counties.”

The LULAC lawsuit filed in Johnson County District Court challenges legislation approved in June by the GOP-controlled Legislature that bars county officials from using the state’s voter registration database to fill in missing information on absentee ballot request forms.

Instead, if information is missing, county officials must email or call the voter within 24 hours to get the information. If they cannot reach the voter, a letter should be sent. If the correct information isn’t obtained, the voter won’t receive a ballot.

Iowa is an absentee ballot-friendly state, the GOP groups said. State law provides opportunity for reconciliation if a ballot request is incomplete of has incorrect information.

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“Striking down this law would create unnecessary administrative chaos and opportunity for fraud, which could harm Iowans’ confidence in a free, fair and transparent election in November,” they said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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