Government

Sen. Joni Ernst says she has faith in Iowa absentee voting process

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)

Although the Iowa GOP has voiced support for Republican National Committee lawsuits against three county auditors, seeking to invalidate tens of thousands of voters’ absentee ballot applications they sent to registered voters who have participated in recent elections, not all Republican officials are on board.

Auditors in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties sent active registered voters absentee ballot request forms with their personal information already filled in. Voters just have to review, sign and return the forms to get ballots in October that they can mail back or drop off, avoiding potential coronavirus-related health dangers at crowded polling places on Election Day, Nov. 3.

According to filings, the auditors — Joel Miller in Linn County, Travis Weipert in Johnson County and Pat Gill in Woodbury County — are among the officials “willfully and unilaterally disobeying Iowa election law,” RNC Chairwoman Rona McDaniel said. Their actions “have destroyed a key mechanism designed to ensure the integrity of absentee voting.”

“The Republican Party of Iowa is proud to stand with other Republican groups in joining this lawsuit to safeguard our absentee voting process and to protect common-sense election laws,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said.

His counterpart at the Iowa Democratic Party accused Republicans of “trying to rip away vote-by-mail efforts during a global pandemic.”

“Republicans and Donald Trump are trying to suppress voters because they are terrified of being held accountable at the ballot box,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Mark Smith said.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, said election integrity is important to her. So having someone other than the voter put personal information on the absentee ballot request form “makes me a little nervous,” she said while in Cedar Rapids earlier this week.

However, Ernst, a former Montgomery County auditor, called Iowa’s absentee ballot system “very strong.”

“I do have faith in our county auditors, and I know so many of our county auditors, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, and I think it’s great that we have a decentralized way of doing our elections still monitored by the Iowa State Code and our secretary of state,” Ernst said.

“We have some really phenomenal auditors across the state that are going to make sure that our elections are safe. When people ask me all across the state, I always say I don’t worry about Iowa.”

Hearings have been scheduled in Linn County District Court on Aug. 27, in Woodbury County on Aug. 28 and Johnson County on Sept. 9. LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, has joined the auditors in opposing the RNC lawsuits.

Miller, a Democrat, said he acted within his authority by mailing prepopulated forms to 140,000 registered voters last month. Many of those forms have been returned, and his office has been notifying voters their absentee ballots will be mailed Oct. 5.

Weipert’s office is sending the forms to 92,000 registered voters, and has received thousands of responses.

Johnson County long has been Iowa’s most Democratic stronghold. Linn County, the state’s second-largest, has been an important source of Democratic votes in recent elections.

In 2016, Trump handily won Iowa by nearly 10 percentage points. He carried Woodbury, 57 percent to 37 percent. He lost Linn to Hillary Clinton, 50 percent to 41 percent, and Johnson, 65 percent to 27 percent.

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Iowa Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate last month told auditors in an emergency election directive that the forms mailed to voters must be blank “to ensure uniformity.” His office has not taken any action to block the county mailings.

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

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