2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Senate passes election changes but House might not

Closing polls earlier, deadline for absentee ballots at issue

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES -— Proposed changes to the state’s elections laws continue to advance at the Capitol, but lawmakers are not in agreement on some key elements.

A package of changes, including closing the polls for statewide elections an hour earlier, was approved Wednesday by Republicans who control the Iowa Senate.

But when the proposal heads across the rotunda to the Iowa House, which Republicans also control, lawmakers there said they have different ideas.

The bill passed by the Senate — with all Republicans voted for and all Democrats against — would close the polls for statewide elections at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., allow auditors to use signature verification to confirm the authenticity of an absentee ballot and prohibit the mailing out of sample ballots.

It also calls for the use of intelligent bar codes — now uses in only a few counties — to verify that an absentee ballot was mailed ahead of the deadline, but sunsets that provision after four years — when all absentee ballots would be required to be received by local elections officials by Election Day.

“This (proposal) continues Iowa’s goal of providing fair, safe and secure elections in the 21st century. It brings uniformity, transparency, and checks and balances to our election process,” said Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, the Senate bill’s manager.

But Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said while House Republicans will be amenable to some elements of the Senate bill, they are unsure whether they can support some provisions and feel strongly in their opposition to the absentee ballot deadline.

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The House earlier this year approved — on a unanimous vote — a proposal to require auditors to place intelligent bar codes on all absentee ballots. That way, auditors could scan the bar code on any ballots received after Election Day to ensure they were mailed before the deadline.

That proposal was drafted after the House was forced earlier this year to determine whether a 2018 Statehouse election decided by nine votes should also have counted 19 absentee ballots that were received after Election Day but later found by the Post Office to have been mailed on time.

The House ruled the ballots should not be counted because of a lack of clarity in state law.

“We pretty passionately believe in our intelligent mail bar code language,” Kaufmann said. “They sunset and do drop-dead (deadline). That’s going to be a point of disagreement.”

Kaufmann said House Republicans will look through the Senate proposal and determine which elements have enough support to pass the chamber.

He said that list may not include the earlier poll closing time, either.

“We understand that is a logical thing to do. I’m not sure if it’s a politically possible thing to do, both politically and legally,” Kaufmann said. “We’re going to take a hard look at it.”

Earlier versions of the proposal, House File 692, also would have banned public universities as early voting locations and surveyed graduating college students on whether they plan to remain in Iowa. It would remove from voter registration lists any who said they planned to leave the state. Those provisions were removed from the proposal during the legislative process.

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