DES MOINES — A sweeping proposal that would limit early voting in Iowa and make myriad other changes to how elections operate here is on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds after gaining approval from Republican state lawmakers Wednesday.
The proposal sped through the legislative process over the past eight days with only Republican support.
Democrats call the bill voter suppression and a solution in search of a problem.
“Iowa has clean, fair elections. This bill is based on lies and makes it harder for Iowans to vote. We should be making it easier for Iowans to vote,” Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said during the debate that lasted more than five hours, most of which was Democrats speaking against the bill.
Republicans say the wide-ranging legislation will make Iowa’s elections more secure, consistent statewide, and reduce campaigns’ contact with voters.
“It is going to remain really easy to vote after this legislation is signed into law,” Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said during House debate Wednesday night. “This bill does not suppress one single vote.”
Reynolds has not said whether she will sign the bill into law, but did say she is open to reducing the state’s early voting period. Reynolds is scheduled to hold a news conference on Thursday.
Among many other things, the bill would reduce Iowa’s early voting period, constrain early voting programs like satellite voting locations and drop boxes, require absentee ballots to be received by Election Day, close the polls on Election Day an hour earlier, and punish county election officials that violate state election laws.
The proposed changes come after a record-setting election in Iowa, which was boosted by early voting.
In the November 2020 general election, Iowa set state records for the most votes cast overall (more than 1.7 million) and the most early votes cast (more than 1 million). Iowa’s turnout rate of 76% was among the highest in the country. And the record-setting election was also secure: no cases of election fraud have been reported.
The proposed legislation would limit or ban many of the programs that contributed to that record turnout.
While both major political parties have over the past decade increased their use of early voting, data shows that historically more Democrats than Republicans vote early.
“I am weary of this bill, I am frustrated by this bill, and I am angry at this bill,” Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said during House debate.
Sen. Jim Carlin, a Sioux City Republican who has announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, said the legislation also is needed to ensure voters’ confidence in elections and repeated the widely debunked claim that widespread fraud led to Democratic President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory over Republican former President Donald Trump.
During a public hearing on Senate File 413, held Monday, 19 Iowans spoke in opposition to the proposal against just nine who spoke in favor of it. In online comments on the legislative website, the opposition was even more lopsided: roughly 30 wrote comments in support of the bill vs. more than 1,200 who wrote in opposition.
If Reynolds approves, the sweeping legislation could be signed into law by this weekend, just more than a week after it was first made public.