The oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization in the United States is accusing Iowa of suppressing voters through a long and confusing process to obtain an absentee voting ballot.
The League of Latin American Citizens of Iowa, or LULAC, and Majority Forward, a Washington-based nonprofit that supports voter registration and turnout, filed a petition of law and equity against Secretary of State Paul Pate on Tuesday. It challenges Section 124 of House File 2643, which bars county officials from using the state’s voter registration database to fill in missing information on absentee ballot request forms.
Instead, if there is missing information on a request form, county officials must email or call the voter within 24 hours to get the information, and if they cannot be reached by those methods, a letter should be sent. If the correct information isn’t obtained, the voter won’t receive a ballot.
The suit, filed in Johnson County District Court, is calling for a temporary and permanent injunction of the rule, and wants the court to deem it unconstitutional.
“LULAC will not sit idle as fundamental rights of Americans are trampled,” LULAC Iowa Deputy State Director Jazmin Newton said.
Without the ability to check the voter registration database, something as small as transposing the numbers on an address could lead to voters not being able to exercise their rights as citizens, Newton said. Addresses and phone numbers are not required on the ballot request form, simply labeled as “important,” so county officials might not have a way to reach out for information. If voters hear back from the county too late or cannot be reached, they might not be able to vote.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates this issue, she said, because many people won’t feel safe about going to the polls.
Nilvia Reyes Rodriguez, president of Waterloo LULAC chapter, said if first-time voters or those who haven’t voted absentee before have issues this election, it could discourage them from voting in the future.
“If we allow this to go into place, we basically tell them that their vote doesn’t count because of a small error,” Rodriguez said.
Iowa courts struck down a similar law, put in place in 2017, that wouldn’t allow county officials to use the voter registration database to find the voter’s verification number.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill June 30 that, along with restricting officials from putting missing information on ballot forms, required the secretary of state to get permission from the Legislature before mailing absentee ballot request forms to all registered Iowa voters.
Pate mailed absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters before the June 2 primary election, and a record-breaking 522,207 Iowans voted, with almost 400,000 votes coming from absentee ballots.
LULAC Iowa State Director Nick Salazar said there are no current plans to fight the new rule in the courts because some counties are working around the law by sending absentee ballot request forms to registered voters. Linn and Johnson counties have announced they will send request forms to voters.
“We want to make sure that this process on the back end is protected, and voters don’t need to choose between exercising their constitutional right to vote and getting sick,” Salazar said.
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Correction (added 3:50 p.m. July 21, 2020): Story updated to reflect that Pate mailed absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters ahead of the June 2 primary election.