Iowans, and indeed all Americans, have altered their lifestyles in significant ways in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including adhering to social distancing. Much of that is voluntary, but much of it is mandated by government. Schools, businesses, playgrounds, sporting and social events, and many other gatherings are currently closed by government mandate as a matter of public health.
Iowa government can and should do more to prevent gatherings of large numbers of people.
The Iowa General Assembly is currently in recess as part of a policy of social distancing. When legislators return from that recess, one of the first things that should be enacted before adjournment of the 2020 legislative session is a comprehensive vote-by-mail system in Iowa.
In 2016 over 1.5 million Iowans voted in the general election. Most of those votes were cast in-person at polling places staffed by election officials. Repeating that system of voting in 2020 will needlessly endanger the health of hundreds of thousands of Iowans. It does not have to be that way.
Iowa legislators should have drafted for debate and passage when they return from recess a new law that automatically provides every registered voter with a postage-paid mail-in ballot. Those ballots would be mailed out well ahead of Election Day, and thus voters would have an “election period” in which to vote. Comprehensive vote-by-mail elections can be thought of as absentee voting for everyone, but without having to request an absentee ballot. Such a system does not necessarily preclude in-person voting opportunities under some limited circumstances. Extensive research and complex drafting of such a bill would not be necessary. Currently Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah conduct all elections entirely by mail. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have used vote-by-mail for several years. Iowa can use those states’ statutes as models. The task is not too difficult, therefore, for our legislators to accomplish quickly.
Why threaten the health of voters and election officials when traditional polling places, with lines of voters in confined spaces, are simply not necessary to conduct an election? It is time for the Iowa General Assembly and Gov. Kim Reynolds to take this important step to protect the health of hundreds of thousands of Iowans.
Please join me in petitioning your state legislators and Gov. Reynolds to enact in 2020 vote-by-mail elections in Iowa.
Phil Wise of Des Moines is a retired government teacher and represented Southeast Iowa for eleven terms in the Iowa House.