On June 2, Iowa set a record for primary voting with 522,207 ballots cast. According to the Secretary of State’s Office website, that’s 24 percent of registered voters in the state, beating the previous record from 1994, when 449,490 Iowans came out to vote in a primary.
The success of the June primary was due in part to mail-in ballots. Secretary of State Paul Pate took the initiative early on in the coronavirus pandemic and mailed absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter and extended the early voting period for mailed ballots from 29 days to 40 days.
In a news release regarding his decision, Pate said, “The safety of voters while casting their ballots is our top priority. The June 2 primary election will go on as scheduled, because it’s important for Iowans to make their voices heard by voting. The safest way to vote will be by mail.”
Pate’s decision was an important one that simultaneously protected the safety of Iowans and helped to enfranchise their voices and the votes.
Yet, all of Pate’s progress is threatened by a bill that is up for a vote in the Iowa Legislature, which would prevent Pate and his successors from proactively mailing ballot request forms to registered voters.
Voters would have to submit a request along with a valid ID number. Additionally, the bill would prevent Pate from making changes to the absentee voting laws in an emergency and would update a voter to inactive” after they miss one general election.
Right now, the law states that voters are deemed “inactive” only after four years of no voting and their postal address is deemed undeliverable.
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The stated purpose of the law is to protect against voter fraud. Republican state Sen. Roby Smith said the bill “ … ensures Iowa registered voters continue to have safe, secure and reliable elections.”
But the reality is, voter fraud is a rare occurrence, with only 23 Iowans convicted of the crime in the past five years.
The bipartisan group Iowa State Association of County Auditors opposes this bill, because what it actually does is disenfranchise voters and make it harder for them to exercise their right to vote.
It’s infuriating that during a pandemic, our lawmakers are more interested in suppressing the right to vote than actually helping the Iowans who elected them.
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