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Iowa lawmaker uses debunked fraud claims to support election bill that would reduce early voting period

Iowa lawmaker uses debunked fraud claims to support election bill that would reduce early voting period

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DES MOINES — An Iowa state lawmaker used the widely refuted claim of widespread election fraud to explain his support for a sweeping election bill that would reduce Iowa’s early voting period by more than a third and limit the ways voters can receive and submit early ballots.

Public hearings were held Wednesday on the new bill, which was introduced just 24 hours earlier by statehouse Republicans.

After hearing public input, most of which was in opposition to the bill, Republican Sen. Jason Schultz, of Schleswig, said he supports the proposal because, in his words, “It addresses the controversy that the country is going through right now.”

Schultz was referring to doubt in the 2020 presidential election results, created by Republican former President Donald Trump, who lost that election. Trump repeatedly claimed without evidence that there was widespread fraud in the election results. His claims were debunked by elections officials of all political stripes in all states, by election security analysts, and by more than 60 courts that either rejected or threw out lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies.

Schultz claimed, without providing any evidence, that there was “shady dealing across the country” during the election, and that states that do not continually pass election regulations allow people “to game elections the way they did in cities like Philadelphia.”

No fraud was discovered in Philadelphia during the 2020 elections. A number of legal challenges in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania were rejected by the courts.

In Iowa, a record 1.7 million voters participated in the election, which represented nearly 76% turnout, and no major allegations of fraud have surfaced. With many seeking to avoid the risk of catching COVID-19 at the polls on Election Day, more than 1 million people voted absentee by returning ballots through the mail, dropping them off or filling them out at early voting sites.

More than 80% of registered Democrats and 54% of registered Republicans who participated in the election did so through absentee voting, according to Iowa Secretary of State data. Republicans dominated among Election Day voters.

The legislation, which received public hearings Wednesday in both the Iowa Senate and House, would:

  • Reduce Iowa’s early voting period from 29 days to 18. (That period was extended to 40 days during the 2020 elections to accommodate early voting during the pandemic.)
  • Stop auditors from sending out absentee ballots until mid-October.
  • Bar auditors from sending out absentee ballot request forms, for any reason.
  • Bar anyone from returning an absentee ballot other than the voter or an immediate family member or caregiver.
  • Allow only one drop box for early ballots per county, and that drop box must be outside the county auditor’s office.
  • Make it more difficult for auditors to establish satellite voting locations.
  • Require the state attorney general to investigate all allegations of voter fraud presented to the office.

Sen. Roby Smith, a Republican from Davenport, said the reduction in early voting to 18 days would bring Iowa in line with the national average.

The average starting time for early voting is 22 days before the election, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

Smith also made clear the legislation is designed to address a small number of county auditors who, during the 2020 elections, defied state law by filling out portions of voters’ absentee ballot request forms. Trump’s campaign successfully sued over those forms, which were thrown out, forcing thousands of voters to complete new ones.

“The laws that we pass in this Capitol will be followed by all elected officials in this state,” Smith said during Wednesday’s hearing.

Linn County auditor Joel Miller, one of the county officials who sent the absentee ballot request forms that were rejected by the courts, called the legislation “vindictive.”

“An affront to every county auditor in the state with a passion for creativity, election integrity and increasing voter turnout,” Miller said in an emailed statement.

County elections officials across the state are in widespread opposition to the proposed legislation.

“Iowa has a deserved reputation for fair, efficient and smooth elections. Most of these provisions would threaten rather than help that reputation,” the leaders of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors wrote in a letter to state lawmakers.

Many auditors said the compressed early voting window would make it challenging in some cases for auditors to send the ballot, and voters to receive the ballot, fill it out and return it to the auditor in time.

“Iowa has always led the way with strong election security, great voter participation, and has been an example to other states of how elections should be run. These bills do not appear to be based on voter security or election integrity and instead will actually limit voter access which is a concern,” Cerro Gordo County auditor Adam Wedmore said in an email. “Our staff works hard throughout the year to make voting as accessible to all as possible while also ensuring elections are fair, secure and valid. These bills will jeopardize auditors’ ability to run elections with the access and security that Iowans are accustomed to.”

Smith and Schultz signed off on Senate Study Bill 1199, making it eligible for consideration by the Senate’s state government committee. Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, did not sign off on the bill.

An identical bill, House Study Bill 213, was scheduled for a public hearing later Wednesday in the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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