Guest Columnist

Iowa Senate bill reduces access to voting

"I Voted" buttons lay in a bowl on the voting machine as voters case their ballots in the Iowa City Community School District's Revenue Purpose Statement at the Coralville Community Center on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, in Coralville, Iowa. At the 11am status phone call, the precinct had the most voters with 153. (Jim Slosiarek/Gazette-KCRG)

Suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt founded League of Women Voters 99 years ago to promote the values of representative government, including protecting and enhancing voting rights for all citizens. The League of Women Voters of Iowa continues to advocate for expansion of voting rights — including voting rights for felons upon completion of their sentence, a goal we share with Gov. Kim Reynolds.

However, the League has serious concerns about another bill, Senate Study Bill 1241, a 60-page election bill. Some of the language in this bill seems helpful, such as a section that safeguards against cybersecurity threats. Some of the language appears to be micromanagement, including the section that gives the state commissioner “discretion” to “oversee the activities of a county commissioner” for 60 days before and 60 days after an election. Doesn’t our Secretary of State have enough to do without “overseeing” the activities of our county auditors?

LWVIA’s greatest concern about this bill is about voting accessibility. Since Iowa’s 2017 Voter Identification bill was passed, we have had concerns about the impact that signature verification might have on elections. This bill exacerbates our apprehensions. Regarding absentee ballots, this bill states, “A return envelope marked with affidavit shall be considered incomplete if it lacks the registered voter’s signature or if it appears to the commissioner that the signature on the envelope has been signed by someone other than the registered voter, in comparing the signature on the envelope to the signature on record of the registered voter named on the envelope.”

What this means is that county auditors will need to start verifying signatures. We all know individuals whose signature has changed over time due to age, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, or a variety of degenerative problems. And what will happen when election officials with little of no training in signature verification are mandated to do just that? Legitimate voters will be disenfranchised.

Another accessibility limitation in this bill is its reduction in the number of hours the polls are open. This bill closes polls for all elections at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than the current primary and general election closing. A LWVIA board member who has worked as a poll worker told of two nurses who worked 12-hour shifts and came to their polling spot just minutes before the polls closed at 9 p.m. in the last general election. These hard working Iowans would not have been able to vote at the polls if this bill had been in place.

Last but not least is the League’s concern about disenfranchisement of university students. This bill bans satellite voting stations from any “state-owned building” other than a county courthouse. This means that satellite voting would be allowed at private colleges but banned at our public universities. Why would we want to discourage young Iowan citizens from stepping up to do their civic duty? The League supports efforts to register and promote voting by all our young citizens, be they private or public college students.

The Voter Identification bill, passed just two years ago, still is in the process of implementation. County Auditors have enough to do educating the public on those changes without having to deal with a myriad new changes buried in this complex bill.

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The League encourages all citizens to exercise their right to vote. Senate Study Bill 1241 adopts additional restrictions to make voting more difficult. LWVIA encourages Iowans to speak out. Let your legislators know that SSB 1241 does not represent good governance.

• Mary Rae Bragg is president of League of Women Voters of Iowa.

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