Staff Editorial

Iowa Republicans can't help themselves from screwing up election system

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State speech at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State speech at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Each time Iowa Republicans tinker with the voting system, election commissioners and voter rights advocates warn about the likely negative consequences. Most often, the advocates have been proven right.

For their latest boondoggle, Iowa Republicans passed a law making it more difficult for Secretary of State Paul Pate, a fellow Republican, to promote early absentee voting. Weeks later, some of the same legislative leaders voted to allow the absentee voting project they had just voted to restrict.

The latest round of drama started when last month’s primary smashed turnout records, with nearly 500,000 Iowans casting ballots. Turnout was high in large part because Pate sent absentee ballot request forms to every voter, a smart way to cut down on in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a historically successful election during a historic crisis. But Republicans who control state government didn’t like it.

Shortly after the primary election, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill barring the secretary of state from unilaterally sending absentee ballot requests to every voter. Republican lawmakers said they needed “checks and balances” on the secretary of state, even though he is duly elected by voters statewide.

Iowa voters will get absentee ballot request forms for November election

It was a bad idea, but Republicans didn’t listen — until they realized that their new policy would hurt their own electoral prospects. It turned out that auditors in large counties planned to send ballot request forms to their own constituents, potentially driving up turnout in urban areas heavily populated by Democrats.

So, on July 17, the Iowa Legislative Council unanimously voted to permit Pate to send absentee ballot request forms to every voter.

Republicans backed down from their frivolous restriction for this one election, but they should go even further. Next year, the Legislature should not only repeal the restraints it imposed on the secretary of state, but establish a system to send absentee ballot request forms to every voter for every election. Mail-in ballots are a safe and secure way to vote, pandemic or not.

Even with the statewide mailing approved, problems linger. Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert are sending out ballot request forms with voters’ personal information, in defiance of state officials who say the forms must be blank. It’s a wise move, since forms with incorrect information might not be processed, all because a voter doesn’t know her or his voter PIN.

The party supposedly against bureaucratic red tape is insisting on more paperwork for Iowa voters. Miller, a boisterous politician who rarely backs down from a fight, was right to go ahead with the mailing.

This is a recent installment in a yearslong saga of Republican election reform in Iowa. The Legislature has limited early voting opportunities, made it harder for independent and third-party candidates to get on the ballot, eliminated the straight-ticket voting option, and created a burdensome voter ID requirement for the whole state.

The “election integrity” campaign seems to be a solution in search of a problem. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Iowa or anywhere else in the country. There’s little indication that voting by mail naturally favors one party or the other.

Even if you take the grossly cynical and partisan view that the majority party should use the law to protect its electoral interests, it’s not clear what Republicans are protecting with their election law schemes. They have done just fine without them.

Republicans have held the governor’s office and a majority in the Iowa House since 2011, and a majority in the Iowa Senate since 2016. They won those majorities without a voter ID law, without a shortened early voting window, without extra barriers against third-party candidates, and without hamstringing the secretary of state’s ability to promote absentee voting.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Iowa Republicans have shown they either don’t understand or don’t care about the intricacies of our election system. Iowans would be better off if the Legislature would just leave our ballots alone.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.