Living in Society

Simple and Easy Change or Voter Suppression?

Iowa Capitol

As chair of the Iowa House State Government Committee, Representative Bobby Kaufmann was quick to get out into the newspapers in his district to explain the last minute dealings regarding voting process as the second session of the 88th Iowa General Assembly adjourned Sine Die on June 14.

“The legislation that passed simply requires a Secretary of State to run changes to election law by the Legislature,” Kaufmann wrote in the June 25 Solon Economist.

He went on to explain new restrictions for county auditors in processing absentee ballot requests: they must contact the voter if something is missing on the form. This is instead of the current process of filling in missing information when it is available.

“That is all the bill does. It ensures that a person who wants an absentee ballot is the person who actually receives it,” Kaufmann wrote. “This is no different than if you forget your password for online banking, your credit card, or a loan at the bank.”

Sounds pretty simple and easy doesn’t it? Not so fast!

Representative Mary Mascher, ranking member of the State Government Committee, believes the new law creates barriers to voting and explained it in this July 9 letter to the editor of the Solon Economist:

Barriers to voting have been opposed by House and Senate Democrats for many years. Voter Suppression bills have been proposed and passed over the last four years by Legislative Republicans. Those laws disproportionately impact our elderly, people with disabilities, minorities and the poor. The legislation that was added to the omnibus budget bill in the last hours of the 2020 session created another barrier for the groups listed above.

This is why.

Voters requesting an absentee ballot are required to included their driver’s license number or their unique pin number on the (ABR) absentee ballot request form. The pin number was issued from the Secretary of State’s Office to all voters who did not have a driver’s license or a DOT Identification ID. Those pins were mailed out months ago. Many voters did not keep those pin numbers in a safe place or threw away the letter thinking it was junk mail. So many voters do not have easy access to those numbers.

If a voter fails to include their pin or driver’s license number they will not be automatically mailed their ballot. The auditor has access to the unique pin number but they are not allowed to fill that number in and mail out the ballot!

This is what the County Auditors will be required to do.

First the auditor must try to contact the voter by phone. Many voters no longer include their phone number on their voter registration because they do not want to receive the hundreds of phone calls that candidates and parties have access to if they provide that number. Some voters do not share their cell number for privacy reasons. Some voters do not have phones or have limited minutes on those phones so it may be impossible for the auditors to contact them by phone.

Second the auditor must try to contact the voter by e-mail. Again not all voters have e-mail or include those e-mail addresses on their voter registration form. For low income voters that option is not even realistic. They may not have a computer, internet access or a phone that allows them to receive an e-mail. Many have track phones or phones with limited minutes and cannot receive e-mails through those phones.

Third the auditor must mail the voter a letter through the US Postal System letting them know they have left vital information off of their ABR and they must contact the auditor’s office in order to receive an ballot for the upcoming election. If they contact the auditor’s office they will be able to verify their voter information and the auditor can then send them a ballot. If the voter thinks the letter is more junk mail they may end up throwing it away and will never know why they did not receive their ballot. If the voter receives the letter and fails to contact the auditor’s office they will not receive a ballot.

I have listed some of the flaws in the system above but here is one more challenge for auditors. They must phone, e-mail or mail the letter to the voter within 24 hours of receiving the ABR. Most auditors do not have enough staff to do this within this restrictive time frame. The larger counties may receive literally thousands of ABRs in a day. If hundreds of those ABRs have no pin or driver’s license number it will be physically impossible for the auditor’s staff to complete the requirements above in 24 hours.

If the vital information is missing and the voter requests the absentee ballot close to the day of the election. It may be impossible for the voter to provide the needed information and get the ballot prior to the election.

These burdensome requirements, with nearly identical wording, were in the original 2017 voter ID law, but the state Supreme Court overturned the requirements as an undue burden on voters.

Election fraud in our Iowa Elections is extremely rare. Our county auditors take their jobs seriously and do everything they can to make sure our elections are safe, secure and fair. Due to the COVID virus more voters will choose the option of voting by mail. We know this occurred during the recent 2020 Primary Election where records were broken across the state. Making it more difficult to request an ABR at this time is voter suppression at its worst. This is why Democrats opposed this provision and fought to defeat it on the floor of the House.

For most voters providing a pin or a driver’s license number on their ABR will not be a problem but for the elderly, people with disabilities, our minority populations and low income Iowans this could result in them being denied the right to vote and that is just plain wrong!

State Rep. Mary Mascher

Buyer beware when Republicans propose changes in voting laws.

~ The Solon Economist is available by subscription only. The entire Kaufmann column can be found in this clipping. Mary Mascher’s letter is used with her permission. This post was written for Blog for Iowa.