2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Iowa polls would close earlier in statewide elections under Senate bill

Early close one of many suggested changes to election laws

"I voted" buttons lay in a bowl on the voting machine in Coralville, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/Gazette-KCRG)

DES MOINES — The polls would close an hour earlier for some Iowa elections, and public universities and other state-owned buildings could not serve as satellite voting locations under legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

The sweeping piece of legislation makes many changes to Iowa’s elections laws.

County auditors and other interested parties provided their thoughts on the proposal during a hearing Thursday at the Iowa Capitol.

Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said the goal of the bill, Senate Study Bill 1241, is to strengthen state election laws to ensure Iowa elections are “safe and fair.”

Among the bill’s provisions:

• Polls would close for all Iowa elections at 8 p.m. Currently, polls remain open for statewide elections until 9 p.m., and for some local elections the polls close at 8 p.m.

• State-owned buildings, with the exception of county courthouses, could not serve as satellite voting locations.

• Absentee ballots would be required to be received by the auditor by Election Day. Current law allows absentee ballots to be received and counted so long as they were postmarked by the day before Election Day.

• Elections officials would be required to verify signatures on absentee ballots.

• College students would be given a form that would ask whether they plan to live in or outside Iowa upon graduation, and those who indicate they plan to live outside Iowa would be removed from the voter registration list.

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• When a local entity asks voters for permission to issue bonds, ballots would be required to include information on potential increases in property taxes.

“We are making sure that elections are fair,” Smith said. “It’s the checks and balances that come with living in a constitutional republic that we have.”

Representatives of the League of Women Voters of Iowa expressed concern that the legislation makes it harder to vote by reducing polling hours and the number of satellite voting locations.

“We oppose this because we see it as limiting hours and access,” said Karen Person, who added that the league’s belief is that voting is “a fundamental right that should be accessible as it can be.”

Smith said some portions of the bill are about creating consistency. He said that is the goal with moving all Election Day poll closings to 8 p.m., and why state-owned buildings would no longer be allowed to serve as satellite voting locations — because not all Iowa cities have such buildings, Smith said.

The bill does not, however, dictate whether private colleges can serve as satellite voting locations even though public universities would be barred.

School board and community college officials expressed concerns with the requirement for bonding information on a referendum ballot. They said financial details required in the bill are not always known when a referendum is issued.

Others said the signature verification could be difficult to execute, especially for older individuals whose handwriting can change.

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“Although the bill may have had some good intentions ... overall I think the bill really is restricting access to the ballot,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.

Smith and Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, signed off on the bill to advance it out of the subcommittee. It is scheduled to be taken up Thursday in the Senate state government committee, which Smith chairs. If it passes that committee, it will remain eligible for further consideration this session.

SSB 1241: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=SSB1241

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