Senate Republicans push forward legislation prohibiting Sec. of State’s emergency election powers
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - In a vote largely along party lines Wednesday, the Iowa Senate passed an amendment that could reshape voting in the November general election.
With a 30-19 vote, the Senate passed an amendment to House File 2486, which would prohibit the Secretary of State from mailing absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter, unless voters themselves requested those forms.
Secretary of State Paul Pate took that step ahead of the June 2 primary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Iowans voted in record numbers for a June primary, with more than 500,000 people voting early or in-person, according to Pate.
The legislation would also prevent counties from reducing the number of polling places during an emergency by no more than 35%, which also happened during last week’s primary, in part, because of a shortage of poll workers. Among additional changes, the amendment requires county auditors to contact voters if they’ve left out information on their absentee ballot and have voters fill it in, instead of the auditor’s office using the voter registration database to find that information themselves.
Sen. Roby Smith, a Republican from Scott County and the manager of the legislation in the Senate, claimed during debate at the statehouse on Wednesday that this action will not suppress voters.
“This bill is about security,” Smith said. “This bill is to make sure someone’s vote is not erased by someone that is voting that is not legally allowed to vote. More people will vote under this.”
Senate Democrats disagreed, with all of them voting against the amendment Wednesday. Two Republicans, Tim Kapucian of Benton County and Mark Lofgren of Muscatine County, also cast “no” votes.
Some Democrats argued the proposal would make county auditors’ jobs harder in supervising elections and that it will suppress voters.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Johnson County, who called the legislation “a lousy bill,” said that older voters, in particular, will suffer, especially if they’re still encouraged to stay home in November in the event of an ongoing pandemic.
“One of the things that we heard in the lead up to the election, something that I heard certainly, I think across the state, was there’s no playbook for dealing with the global pandemic,” said Sen. Zach Wahls, also from Johnson County. “This bill throws out the playbook. This bill makes it harder to write the playbook when we’re in it.”
In a rare occurrence, some Senate Democrats even defended and praised Pate, a Republican, and the measures he took ahead of last week’s primary.
In a statement sent to KCRG-TV9, Pate said, “My goal was to protect Iowa voters and poll workers while finding ways to conduct a clean and fair election. We had record high turnout for a June primary. Iowans did not let COVID-19 prevent them from voting. I stand by my decisions.”
The legislation will now move to the House for debate and vote.
At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said Pate’s action to send out request forms for absentee ballots was “fine,” but said she wouldn’t comment on the legislation until she sees it in its final form.
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