(Des Moines, Iowa) Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano ruled against an administrative rule adopted by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate that applied to Iowa’s Election Modernization and Integrity Act (HF 516) passed and signed into law by former Governor Terry Branstad in 2017.
The new law amended in the Iowa Code what information a voter must include when voting by absentee ballot.
The relevant section in Iowa Code § 53.2(4)(b) reads:
If insufficient information has been provided, including the absence of a voter verification number, either on the prescribed form or on an application created by the applicant, the commissioner shall, by the best means available, obtain the additional necessary information. A voter requesting or casting a ballot pursuant to section 53.22 shall not be required to provide a voter verification number.
Pate through the rulemaking process defined in Iowa Administrative Code rule 721-21.306 how “best means available” was to be interpreted. The rule states in part, “(b)est means available, for the purposes of this rule, means contacting the voter directly by mail, e-mail, or telephone or in person. Commissioners may not use the voter registration system to obtain the information.”
The Petitioners, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa and Taylor Blair, through their attornies, argued against the statement, “Commissioners may not use the voter registration system to obtain the information.”
Romano found Pate’s interpretation to be erroneous. “Forbidding commissioners from using the voter registration system entirely is a direct contradiction of the term ‘best means available.’ It well may be that the best means available to a commissioner upon receipt of an absentee ballot that lacks the required information is of the voter registration system,” she wrote.
Romano also stated that Pate’s interpretation is “irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable.”
“Requiring a commissioner to contact the voter directly by mail, phone, email, or in person rather than using the voter registration system when said system may very well be the best means available is unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion,” she stated in her ruling.
In July, Romano blocked other changes to Iowa’s absentee voting law, but the Iowa Supreme Court lifted her injunction blocking the implementation of a shorter early voting period while upholding her other injunctions. Romano was appointed to the bench in 2001 by former Governor Tom Vilsack.
The ruling drew sharp criticism from Pate.
“Judge Romano’s decision puts the integrity and security of Iowa’s elections at risk, by making it easier to cheat. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that County Auditors obtain information missing from an absentee ballot request form from the source: the requesting voter,” Pate said in a released statement.
“The administrative rule formally adopted the definition of ‘best means available’ that has been used by both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State. This procedure is crucial to the integrity and security of Iowa’s elections because it ensures that absentee ballots are sent at the direction of the voter, and no one else,” he explained.
“The people of Iowa have repeatedly shown they overwhelmingly support Voter ID and their elected representatives enacted a law that makes it easy to vote, but hard to cheat. As a result of the judge’s decision, absentee voters will no longer be required to provide proof of identity,” Pate added.
Pate said he intends to appeal the ruling.
Read the ruling below: