Senate Republicans are proposing new restrictions on state and local election officials after changes made for last week’s primary elections led to record turnout, primarily from early voting with absentee ballots.
Democrats like Senator Pam Jochum of Dubuque call the GOP moves voter suppression.
“What are you afraid of, that more people in this state might engage in a constitutional right to cast a vote?” Jochum asked rhetorically late Friday night. “If this last primary showed us anything, it’s that it worked.”
Secretary of State Paul Pate sent absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter in the state, urging early voting through the mail during the pandemic rather than in-person voting on Primary Day. The bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee late Friday night would forbid Pate and county auditors from mailing out absentee ballot request forms in the future. Senator Roby Smith, a Republican from Davenport, said he has certified letters outlining instances of voter fraud.
“I welcome the debate. I can defend this until the cow’s come home…because I want to protect the ballot box,” Smith said.
Republican Senator Marinnette Miller-Meek of Ottumwa won last week’s second congressional district primary and she disputed the idea Pate’s mailing of absentee ballot request forms spurred turnout.
“Perhaps on the Republican side…there was a record Republican turnout because you had congressional candidates who were in very spirited primaries and who were directing people and in video and in direct mail to vote by mail,” Miller-Meeks said, ” instructed how to vote by mail, reached out to them to vote by mail.”
Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, said Republicans had devised “a potpourri” of voter limitations.
“Now our president thinks this country is riddled with crooks and cheats and naves,” Bisignano said. “…You’re picking up his theme. Let’s just choke down these absentees.”
The bill also stipulates that no more than 35 percent of precincts may be closed on Election Day. Last Tuesday many county auditors dramatically reduced and consolidated voting sites for the primary. Republicans say that was unfair to Iowans who had to travel great distances to vote last Tuesday.
The bill’s next stop is debate in the full Senate. County auditors issued a joint statement, saying they are “baffled” legislators would want to cripple actions taken for last Tuesday’s election that “led to such success.”