Staff Editorial

Courts must protect Iowans' voting rights

The Iowa Judicial Branch building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Iowa Judicial Branch building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa courts have repeatedly and accurately cast the right to vote as fundamental.

State residents were reminded of this last week when the Polk County District Court temporarily barred the state from implementing portions of a new voting law.

The provisions in question — limiting access to early voting, placing new requirements on early voting, educating Iowans and county auditors about requirements, and providing discretionary disenfranchisement authority to unqualified county officials — either directly, or through improper administrative rules, placed an undue burden on Iowans attempting to access a fundamental right.

The court also determined the way in which changes were being rolled out by the Iowa secretary of state were contrary to the law, creating more confusion among potential voters and election officials.

Yet even a court order did not prevent the Secretary of State’s Office from continuing such disinformation.

A state deputy commissioner of elections told county election officials to disregard the injunction. When county auditors, including Joel Miller of Linn County, questioned the legality of violating a court order, Secretary of State Paul Pate said his election official did not know the injunction was in place, although the decision had been handed down two days earlier.

Now the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, acting on behalf of the secretary of state, is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to set aside the injunction and allow new rules to be implemented.

Justices should resist.

Under changes being made by Pate and supported by the Republican majority in the Iowa Legislature, there was no due process for Iowans denied their fundamental right to vote.

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The District Court found the state “has not even attempted to explain” how these changes “will ensure fairness or preserve the integrity of elections.”

The 2018 midterm elections are looming. Iowans must have clear laws carefully crafted to preserve their voting rights, not unnecessary confusion or doubt about the balloting process.

Pate, a candidate on the November ballot, has instead chosen to attack the court in a campaign fundraising appeal.

As the case advances, justices will be able to further weigh the merits of the voting law. Without the injunction, there is no such recourse for disenfranchised voters.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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