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RNC Intervenes In Iowa Dispute Over Absentee Voting

July 29, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
Absentee ballots that came in after the 2016 election. (David Swanson/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee on Monday urged Iowa election officials to block counties from sending out absentee ballot request forms with pre-filled voter information.

In a letter, the RNC’s chief counsel asked Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate to issue an order prohibiting local election officials from distributing the pre-populated forms.

“This reckless act is not only a severe breach of security … but likely violates both the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Iowa law,” said the letter. “Requiring each voter to supply their own confidential information, including their date of birth and voter identification number, serves as a “check” to ensure that absentee ballot request forms are completed by the voters themselves, rather than unscrupulous third parties.”

Earlier this year, Iowa’s GOP-controlled legislature passed a law barring county auditors from using state voter records to look up missing information when voters request absentee ballots.

The law requires county auditors to call or email voters if they provide incorrect or incomplete information on an absentee ballot request form, rather than using a government database to fill in the gaps.

However, some county auditors are defying the rule by sending out absentee ballot request forms with pre-populated fields, like a voter’s name, date of birth, and voter ID pin number. 

On Monday, auditors from Linn and Johnson counties issued a statement denouncing the RNC’s intervention in Iowa elections. “It is extremely concerning that the Republican National Committee is placing pressure on Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate to impede our efforts to make voting easier and safer for Iowans during a pandemic.”

The GOP-backed law is also facing a challenge in court from voting advocacy groups who claim it is unconstitutional.

In a complaint filed on July 14, the League of United Latin American Citizens and Majority Forward, a Democratically aligned non-profit, said the law “burdens the right to vote of significant numbers of Iowans who apply for absentee ballots and increases the risk of complete disenfranchisement.”

In response, several Republicans groups, including President Trump’s campaign and the Iowa GOP, filed motions to get the lawsuit dismissed. 

In a statement, Trump 2020 General Counsel Matthew Morgan accused Democrats of trying to “sue their way to victory” in the general election. “Our president knows that the way to protect every American’s ballot is to adhere to election integrity safeguards, just like the protections in place in Iowa,” Morgan said in a statement. “We are fighting back and protecting the integrity of each vote cast in Iowa.”

President Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that a surge in absentee voting could lead to widespread voter fraud in November. “Mail-In Voting, unless changed by the courts, will lead to the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History!” Trump said in a tweet last week.

Despite those suspicions, reports indicate that Trump has voted absentee in at least three elections, including Florida’s presidential primary last March.

The RNC’s letter to Iowa’s secretary of state escalates an ongoing legal battle over restrictions on absentee voting during the pandemic ahead of this fall’s presidential election.

Pate has encouraged Iowans to vote from home during the pandemic. Ahead of the primary elections in June, he extended early voting deadlines and sent out absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters using coronavirus relief funds.

As a result, Iowa set an all-time record for turnout in a primary with a total of 529,596 votes, nearly 80% of which were cast using absentee ballots. 

Republicans have consistently tried to hinder his efforts to facilitate absentee and mail-in voting. 

In June, GOP lawmakers in Iowa’s state legislature passed a bill to block Pate from once again sending absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters — this time for the general election in November. 

They said that more “checks and balances” were needed on the state’s top election official.

But Pate’s emergency election directive to send the absentee ballot request forms was eventually approved by a legislative panel. 

“I want Iowa voters and poll workers to be safe during this pandemic while we conduct a clean, fair and secure election,” Pate said in a statement. “After consulting with all 99 county auditors, I believe the best way to accomplish that goal is by mailing an absentee ballot request form to every active registered voter in the state. Voters will still have the option of casting their ballot in person and we will provide resources to protect Iowans who choose that method. This process worked great in the June primary and I believe it will work in the general election.”

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