Two Iowa judges have now ruled in favor of the Republican Party and President Trump’s campaign and nullified at least 55,000 absentee ballot request forms from voters in Woodbury and Linn Counties. A hearing over a similar lawsuit against Johnson County’s Auditor for sending ballot request forms that included the voter’s ID number is scheduled Septemer 8.
Republicans argue the three county auditors did not follow a state order that only blank absentee ballot request forms be mailed out. Alan Ostergren (AH-stir-grehn), the former Muscatine County Attorney, represented the Republican Party in both of last week’s court hearings.
“The secretary of state’s directive specifically ordered auditors — if they were going to send out their own forms…that they needed to be blank because of the need to have it uniform across the state,” Ostergren said.
Attorney Jeff Wright, representing Woodbury County’s auditor, argued the secretary of state did not have authority to issue his order.
“This is a public health emergency, a public health disaster,” he said, “and the legislature did not give Mr. Pate in the secretary of state’s office emergency powers for a public health disaster.”
In June, the Republican-led legislature voted to require Pate to seek Legislative Council approval for any changes in state election procedures. In July, the Legislative Council gave Pate permission to send blank absentee ballot request forms to every active voter.
“They wanted those forms sent out with no information on those,” Pate said this weekend on Iowa PBS, “particularly with personal information that is confidential.”
That mailing from the state is set to go out on Labor Day weekend. The auditors in Woodbury and Linn Counties — and in Johnson County if a similar decision is made in that case — face a tight deadline to notify voters that their absentee ballot request has been invalidated by a judge. Pate said his office will coordinate with the two and perhaps three affected counties.
“To make sure its being communicated to those folks who’ve already sent in their request on the wrong form, based on what the courts are saying, so they’re successful in being able to vote,” Pate said.
Absentee ballot mailings from other county auditors have not been challenged. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzerald oversees voting in Iowa’s largest county and his mailing did not include voter ID numbers.
“We’ve had a lot of movement in our county, people moving from one apartment to another, so the blank form allowed us to put “or current resident’ because there was no information on it other than a blank form,” Fitzgerald said.
Iowans can request absentee ballots now. County election officials can’t send out the ballots, though, until October 5.
(Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City contributed to this story.)