Photo credit: Tom Arthur (CC-By-SA 2.0)

(Des Moines, Iowa) Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano blocked four features of Iowa’s Election Modernization and Integrity Act (HF 516) late Tuesday afternoon. The changes to Iowa’s voting passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2017 was signed into law by former Governor Terry Branstad.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa and Taylor Blair, a student at Iowa State University, filed suit to block certain aspects of the law.

“I am disappointed to learn a temporary injunction was placed on some parts of Iowa’s Election Modernization and Integrity Act today. We will be appealing this decision to the Iowa Supreme Court immediately. Out-of-state dark money and Washington, D.C. lawyers have come into Iowa to try to overturn our election laws. The people of Iowa overwhelmingly support voter ID and their elected representatives enacted a law that makes it easy to vote, but hard to cheat. My office has worked diligently with organizations across the state, including the plaintiffs in this case, to inform all Iowans about the provisions of this new law. The plaintiffs have not shown a single Iowan has been disenfranchised by this bill,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said in a released statement responding to the ruling.

Romano’s injunction primarily deals with changes in Iowa’s absentee voting laws, specifically it:

  • Restores the absentee voting period to 40 days from 29 days.
  • Blocks the ability of county auditors to reject an absentee ballot request forms or absentee ballots if the signature on the absentee ballot request form or returned absentee ballot envelope does not match the signature on record.
  • Blocks the requirement to provide an ID number (driver’s license number, non-operator state-issued ID, or voter identification card) on the absentee ballot application.

Romano also ordered that the Iowa Secretary of State’s office not to include language on absentee ballot request forms that “(a)n absentee ballot cannot be issued until ID number is provided.”

She also ordered that the Iowa Secretary of State’s office stop their advertising campaign that indicates IDs are needed this year. The ID requirement of HF 516 will not go into effect until 2019.

Reading through the ruling, I disagree that a shortened absentee voting window causes “irreparable harm” to voters. Frankly, if 2018 showed us anything, voting too early isn’t good. The fact that voters who typically vote between the 40th and 29th day would have to change their voting habit does not mean they are disenfranchised; it just means they have to vote 11 days later. If the window was shortened causing the absentee ballot cut-off to be eleven days earlier then I could see their point, but that isn’t what HF 516 did.

The complaint about requiring an ID number on the absentee ballot request form is ludicrous as well. LULAC’s point that prospective voters did not want to fill out and submit an absentee ballot request form with their canvassers shouldn’t matter. Legal residents of voting age have a right to vote by absentee ballot. They do not have a right to apply for a ballot through a third party organization, especially when they can download the request form and mail it to their county auditor in time so it can be received by 5:00p on Friday, 11 days before the election (for a general election by Saturday, 10 days before the election).

When LULAC is out canvassing and someone does not want to provide an ID number I would think either they 1. don’t want to give that data out to a canvasser (and I don’t blame them) or 2. they are not eligible to vote. In the case of data privacy, why can’t LULAC just leave an absentee ballot request form with the voter? If they are canvassing away from people’s homes and they don’t have their ID on them then, again, leave a form with them. It should not be the state’s responsibility to ensure it is easier for LULAC to canvass their voters. Any organization that does canvassing could have this complaint, but they need to make the necessary adjustments.

I sympathize with the plaintiffs’ complaint about the signature requirements. I agree that county auditors are not handwriting experts, but this makes it even more critical that the absentee ballot request includes an ID number.

I also sympathize with their complaint that voter education material does not say an ID is needed for this upcoming election since that requirement does not take effect until 2019. That could keep people from the polls in November.

Romano in her ruling made it clear she believed the Plaintiffs would prevail in court so it is unlikely she would find in favor of the state. I don’t have much faith that the Iowa Supreme Court would overturn her ruling however.

Read the ruling below:

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