ELECTION 2020

Justices uphold new Iowa absentee voting law

Rights groups argued law makes it harder to vote

The Linn County Auditor's Office, which mailed absentee ballot request forms to  active registered voters, has been send
The Linn County Auditor’s Office, which mailed absentee ballot request forms to active registered voters, has been sending postcards to those who returned the requests to let them know the ballots will be mailed Oct. 5. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court, in a narrow 4-3 decision Wednesday, let stand a state law that bars county auditors from filling out voters’ personal information on absentee ballot request forms.

In issuing their opinion, the majority of state justices said challengers to a state law — pushed through by the Republican-controlled Legislative in the final hours of the 2020 session — offered no evidence that provisions of House File 2643 will deny any Iowan the right to vote absentee.

The court declined to invalidate the law “on the eve” of the Nov. 3 general election.

However, three dissenting justices argued the majority decision failed to take into account the historic COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on county auditors’ ability to keep up with record-breaking requests for absentee ballots while addressing issues of missing or incorrect information.

Voters have until Saturday to supply their county auditors with the needed information to request an absentee ballot. But auditors now are not allowed to use the voter registration system to correct applications as they have before.

H.F. 2643 requires county election officials to directly contact voters by phone or email for any missing information. If the voter’s phone number or email address isn’t available, the auditors would have to mail a letter to the voter requesting the information.

The League of Latin American Citizens of Iowa, or LULAC, Iowa’s largest Latino civil rights organization, and Majority Forward, a national nonprofit that supports voter registration, asked a judge to stop Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate from enforcing H.F. 2643.

The lawsuit contends the new law makes it more difficult to vote and violates due process and equal protection rights. But the state Supreme Court majority rejected that argument in siding with President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and Iowa’s GOP state election commissioner in upholding the new state law.

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“We have an unprecedented amount of absentee ballot requests this general election cycle and Iowans deserve to know their vote is secure,” Pate said in a statement. “The overwhelming majority of Iowans have repeatedly said they support Voter ID, and this case was about having Voter ID for absentee ballots. It’s legal, constitutional, and fair. I thank the Iowa Supreme Court once again for reaffirming Iowa’s commitment to election integrity.”

The court majority was made up of Justices Edward Mansfield, Matthew McDermott, Christopher McDonald and Thomas Waterman, while Chief Justice Susan Christensen and Justices Brent Appel and Dana Oxley dissented.

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