Guest Columnist

The Iowa GOP just threw up another barrier to voting

Randy Achenbach feeds envelopes containing completed request for absentee ballot forms into a slitter at the Jean Oxley
Randy Achenbach feeds envelopes containing completed request for absentee ballot forms into a slitter at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Barriers to voting have been opposed by Iowa House and Senate Democrats for many years. Voter suppression bills have been proposed and passed over the last four years by legislative Republicans. Those laws disproportionately impact our elderly, people with disabilities, minorities and the poor.

The legislation that was added last month to the omnibus budget bill in the last hours of the 2020 session created another barrier for the groups listed above.

This is why.

Voters requesting an absentee ballot are required to include their driver’s license number or their unique pin number on the (ABR) absentee ballot request form. The pin number was issued from the Secretary of State’s Office to all voters who did not have a driver’s license or a DOT Identification ID. Those pins were mailed out months ago. Many voters did not keep those pin numbers in a safe place or threw away the letter thinking it was junk mail. So many voters do not have easy access to those numbers.

If a voter fails to include their pin or driver’s license number they will not be automatically mailed their ballot. The auditor has access to the unique pin number but they are not allowed to fill that number in and mail out the ballot!

Instead, this is what county auditors will be required to do.

First the auditor must try to contact the voter by phone. Many voters no longer include their phone number on their voter registration because they do not want to receive the hundreds of phone calls from candidates and parties. Some voters do not share their cell number for privacy reasons. Some voters do not have phones or have limited minutes on those phones so it may be impossible for the auditors to contact them by phone.

Second, the auditor must try to contact the voter by email. Again not all voters have email or include email addresses on their voter registration form. For low income voters that option is not even realistic. They may not have a computer, internet access or a phone that allows them to receive an email. Many have track phones or phones with limited minutes and cannot receive emails.

Third the auditor must mail the voter a letter through the U.S. Postal System letting them know they have left vital information off their ABR and they must contact the auditor’s office in order to receive an ballot for the upcoming election. If they contact the auditor’s office they will be able to verify their voter information and the auditor can then send them a ballot. If the voter thinks the letter is more junk mail they may end up throwing it away and will never know why they did not receive their ballot. If the voter receives the letter and fails to contact the auditor’s office they will not receive a ballot.

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Auditors must phone, email or mail the letter to the voter within 24 hours of receiving the ABR. Most auditors do not have enough staff to do this within this restrictive time frame. Larger counties may receive thousands of ABRs in a day. If hundreds of those ABRs have no pin or driver’s license number it will be physically impossible for the auditor’s staff to complete the requirements above in 24 hours.

If the vital information is missing and the voter requests the absentee ballot close to the day of the election. It may be impossible for the voter to provide the needed information and get the ballot before the election.

These burdensome requirements, with nearly identical wording, were in the original 2017 voter ID law, but the state Supreme Court overturned the requirements as an undue burden on voters.

Election fraud in our Iowa elections is extremely rare. Our county auditors take their jobs seriously and do everything they can to make sure our elections are safe, secure and fair. Due to the COVID-19 virus more voters will choose the option of voting by mail. We know this occurred during the recent primary election where turnout records were broken across the state. Making it more difficult to request an absentee ballot at this time is voter suppression at its worst. This is why Democrats opposed this provision and fought to defeat it on the floor of the House.

For most voters providing a pin or a driver’s license number on their ABR will not be a problem, but for the elderly, people with disabilities, our minority populations and low income Iowans this could result in them being denied the right to vote and that is just plain wrong!

Mary Mascher of Iowa City is a Democrat representing District 86 in the Iowa House.

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