Panel OKs sending ballot request forms to all Iowa voters

Panel OKs sending ballot request forms to all Iowa voters
A legislative panel voted unanimously Friday to approve the plan by Iowa’s top election official to send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters before the November election, following a similar action he took before the June primary to help people avoid voting in person amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a proposed emergency election directive, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate sought to use federal funds to mail absentee ballot requests to all active registered voters for the Nov. 3 election. In the directive that Pate presented to the Legislative Council, he said a public health disaster persists.

Pate noted that he has consulted with all 99 county auditors and not all of them can send absentee ballot request forms to voters.

The legislative panel, made up of 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats, met by telephone and approved Pate’s request.

“I want Iowa voters and poll workers to be safe during this pandemic while we conduct a clean, fair and secure election,” he 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.”

It wasn’t clear when ballot requests will be sent to voters or whether some counties, which have already printed ballot requests, will still mail out the forms.

Pate said voters can still cast their ballot in person, and election officials will provide resources to protect those who choose that method.

Pate previously had the power to send out ballot requests but just days after his action was credited with a record turnout for the June primary. But in a last-minute maneuver, Republican lawmakers approved a bill requiring him to get approval of the GOP-run legislative council. The action was in line with calls from President Donald Trump for states to limit mail voting.

In recent weeks, election officials in some larger populated counties said they would send ballots to all registered voters in their counties. Some have also said they planned to send absentee ballot request forms with a voter identification number already filled in to assist voters.

In Iowa, voters without a driver’s license or state-issued identification card must use a PIN issued by Pate to satisfy the state’s voter identification law. Some voter advocates worry that many voters don’t know their PIN and could forget it or put the wrong number on the ballot request form.

Iowa Republican lawmakers passed a law in June that forces local election officials to call, email or write voters if they get the identification number wrong, leave it off or make any mistake on an absentee ballot application. Previously, the county officials could double-check their voter database and fix any errors or omissions.

County officials opposed the law and have said it hinders their ability to process forms efficiently. Opponents Republicans were trying to suppress voting. Two Latino advocacy groups have sued to block its enforcement.

Pate’s directive prohibits county officials from automatically filling in information on absentee ballot forms they send to voters.

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