Just a couple of weeks ago we passed a pledge of allegiance bill. There was talk of democracy and patriotism. What I want to know is, where are democracy and patriotism now? You certainly can’t find them in this bill. Because in our democracy, there is no right more fundamental than the right to vote. There is no freedom more precious. People have fought and died for this freedom. There are the colonial revolutionaries who fought for our liberty and created one of the world’s greatest democracies. Our veterans who have bravely fought in numerous wars to that liberty. Our civil rights leaders who risked their lives to challenge voter suppression. This bill denigrates all their sacrifices, casually tossing aside Iowa’s proud history of voting freedom.
Any law that affects the freedom to vote should do two things and two things only. It should make voting easier and make voting more secure. This bill does neither. This bill just makes it harder to vote.
First, it reduces the time for early voting and mail-in voting from 29 days to 20 days, which would make Iowa’s mail-in voting period among the shortest in the country. This is the second time the voting period has been reduced in recent memory, and now it will be half what it was a few years ago. And it’s actually even less than half, because now the ballots have to arrive by election day or they won’t be counted.
But maybe 20 days still sounds like a lot to some people. So let’s do the math. Many people request absentee ballots because they are out of state at election time. So let’s just take for example the many elderly Iowans who head down to sunny Florida about that time of year. The auditor’s office will probably need to send out the absentee ballots in stages because there are too many to send them all out at once. So it might be 3-5 days before the ballot is mailed out. Then it could take 6-7 days for it to be mailed to Florida. Now we’re at 9-12 days. Let’s say it takes a voter 5 days to find time to research all of the candidates and issues on the ballot. We’re at 14-17 days. There is no time to get the ballot back by election day, which means that it won’t be counted under this bill. And even if the mail times are shorter in some places, people will definitely not have time to correct any mistakes in the ballot. Under this timeline, only people who live very close, fill out the ballot the minute they get it, and make no mistakes on their ballots are going to have their ballots counted.
Second, the bill would purge voters who fail to vote in one general election if they don’t take affirmative steps to stay registered. If they don’t submit a change of address form and don’t return a postcard, these voters will become “inactive.” They could show up on election day, only to find that they are ineligible to vote.
One missed election does not make a voter inactive. In fact, there are people who only vote in presidential elections. They have been doing that their whole lives. But under this bill, they would be purged if they don’t vote in the midterm. This bill would force people to jump through hoops just so they can continue to do what they’ve been doing for 30 or 40 years.
Third, this bill limits the people who can pick up a ballot from a voter and return it for them. New Section 53.33 says, “No person other than the registered voter or an individual who lives in the same household as the registered voter, the registered voter’s immediate family, an individual serving as a caretaker for the registered voter, or an individual pursuant to section 53.22 shall collect a completed ballot and return the ballot by mail or in person to the country auditor’s office or other election location. A violation of this section constitutes election misconduct in the third degree under section 39A.4.” So an immediate family member, someone living in the same household, or a caretaker. That’s it. Those are the only people who can pick up your ballot and return it for you. A cousin or niece can’t take your ballot in for you. Your best friend of 20 years can’t take your ballot in for you. A League of Women Voters volunteer who you’ve trusted for many elections can’t take your ballot in for you. And if any of these people does do it for you, they are guilty of election misconduct in the third degree. We asked for an amendment to allow people to designate one person – one person – to pick up a ballot, but that amendment was refused. This is going to make it more difficult to vote for a lot of people, but it is going to be especially bad for the elderly and disabled.
So it is not surprising that there is a mountain of opposition to this bill. Just about every Iowa organization who has ever worked on voting rights or protecting vulnerable people is against it: the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the AARP, Disability Rights Iowa, the ACLU, Iowa Mental Health Planning Council, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and others. Not to mention more than 1,000 Iowans posted comments opposing this bill, compared to barely 20 who are in favor.
Finally, the bill imposes excessively harsh punishments on local auditors who don’t enforce the law – including the new restrictions on voting – to the letter.
Under this bill, election officials, including poll workers, could be imprisoned for five years for willful violations of their duties. And that makes sense when they interfere with the right to vote. But here’s the thing: this bill makes it harder to vote, so if officials defy it to help people vote, they could go to jail. There is also a provision that subjects auditors to a $10,000 fine for “technical infractions.” This term is not defined anywhere in code, but it is meant to apply to simple mistakes. It could be things like stapling something that shouldn’t be stapled or submitting one copy of a document instead of two. The response used to be just a letter from the SOS informing the auditor of the mistake. Now, it is up to a $10,000 fine. Given the severe punishments and the lack of clarity on what the violation is, this part of the bill is likely unconstitutionally vague under due process. Who is going to want to be a poll worker or an auditor after this? We need our auditors and our poll workers to make elections go smoothly. So again, this bill makes it harder to vote.
Just think about what this bill does. The bill makes it harder for people to vote, and then threatens severe punishments on officials who defy it to help people vote. That is what totalitarian governments do. It is not what democracies are supposed to do.
This bill is not about improving elections. It is not about making it easier to vote, and it’s not about increasing voting security. It is a dangerous abuse of power. It has no place in America and no place in Iowa. I urge you to vote no on this undemocratic and unpatriotic bill.