Guest Columnist

Kanye West, Iowa's mail-in ballots and the weaponization of paperwork

Are typos and bad handwriting threats to our democracy? Republicans and Democrats are determined to find out

Envelopes containing completed request for absentee ballot forms stack up after being fed through a slitter at the Jean
Envelopes containing completed request for absentee ballot forms stack up after being fed through a slitter at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa Democrats have been crying foul over paperwork this election season.

First, it was felon voting rights. Until recently, Iowa required people released from prison to apply to the governor before voting, which critics said was an undue burden. Advocates successfully pressed Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to restore an executive order to automatically restore felon voting rights.

Lately, the concern is absentee ballots. Republicans this year made it harder for election officials to offer absentee ballots, and the Trump campaign is challenging Democratic auditors’ practice of sending partially filled-in ballot request forms.

On these points, the Democrats are totally correct. Absentee ballots should be easy to request, and released felons should automatically have their voting rights restored.

As my Gazette editorial board colleagues and I wrote in a recent editorial, criticizing Republican ballot evasion tactics, “The party supposedly against bureaucratic red tape is insisting on more paperwork for Iowa voters.”

But Democrats’ allergy to complicated election paperwork runs only as deep as it serves their political agenda. If you threaten their beloved two-party system, they will throw paperwork at you.

On Monday, a state panel reviewed ballot access objections brought by Democrats and their allies. The challenges were intended to keep certain candidates off Iowa’s 2020 general election ballots.

The big headline is that musician Kanye West is confirmed as an independent candidate for president in Iowa, as his ballot petition withstood two objections. Democrats nationally and in Iowa are perturbed that West might cost them votes.

If 2020 is ‘not the time’ to vote for a third party, when is the time?

The first challenge against West, brought by an individual citizen, objected to a small portion of the signatures on his petition. However, state officials at the meeting noted that the relevant addresses appeared to be legitimate, and signatures can’t be thrown out because the names are illegible.

Nitpicking petition signers’ addresses and names bears a startling resemblance to Republicans’ insistence on perfect completion of absentee ballot requests. Both are based on the silly idea that our democratic system is imperiled by innocent typos and bad handwriting.

The other challenge to West’s candidacy came from a Des Moines law firm, arguing that West misrepresented himself as an independent candidate for president, when he’s really a registered Republican.

The objection relies on taking Iowa’s rules for major parties and misapplying them to no-party and candidates. The only way for West to run as an independent for president in Iowa, the challenging lawyer said, would be to change his voter registration back home. It would be more paperwork, only serving to limit voters’ choices.

West’s challenges didn’t formally come from Democratic organizations, but none came to his defense.

Another challenge came from a Sioux City Democrat, who questioned whether a Republican candidate in Iowa House District 13 followed the proper procedures in seeking a nomination at a convention of local Republicans. It all came down to the paperwork filed to announce the convention.

A state panel consisting of the secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor unanimously dismissed three challenges. A challenge against a Libertarian running in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District was withdrawn.

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We are seeing the weaponization of paperwork, a tactic expertly honed by both major parties. This time, fortunately, it didn’t work.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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