Soon, if they haven’t already, voters all across the Quad-Cities will be getting forms in the mail asking if they want an absentee ballot for the November 3 election.
This is a good thing. For all the false claims made about voting by mail, or by absentee, it is safe and secure.
And popular. We’re told by the Scott County Auditor’s office that, already, about 1,500 requests for absentee ballots have come in. And it's barely August. What’s more, the office is getting as many as three dozen calls each day from voters who are asking about voting this way.
Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz said she soon will be sending a mailing countywide. Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney will be doing the same.
Even the Iowa Secretary of State’s office is sending a statewide mailing.
This latter point is important.
In Illinois, Gov J.B. Pritzker signed a law earlier this year requiring that local election officials across the state mail absentee ballot request forms to everybody who voted in 2018, 2019 and 2020 elections, as well as those who request them.
In Iowa, things haven't been so easy.
Recall, before the June primary Secretary of State Paul Pate sent request forms to every registered voter in the state. It drove a huge turnout. A record 531,000 Iowans cast ballots, the vast majority by mail.
Unfortunately, legislative Republicans, led by Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, limited Pate's ability to do it again for the general election, turning those powers over to the Iowa Legislative Council in a law passed at the end of the 2020 session.
In early July, the legislative council, which is controlled by Republicans, refused a request by Democrats to repeat Pate’s success. But then a funny thing happened. County auditors began announcing they would take it upon themselves to send out request forms. Many of these auditors are in counties with large number of Democrats – Linn, Johnson, Black Hawk and Scott counties, for example. And, lo and behold, the legislative council changed its tune. In mid-July, it granted a request by Pate to send out a statewide mailing.
Frankly, this is one of the reasons we were unhappy with Smith’s bill. We placed more trust in election officials to decide whether to send request forms statewide than self-interested lawmakers. And, yes, we wanted this to happen statewide rather than piecemeal so that everyone would benefit, not just people who live in counties with auditors with the funds and the commitment to making things easier on voters.
We do welcome the council's change of heart. But there still are obstacles.
The Republican election law makes it more difficult for county auditors to process these ballot requests.
Previously, election workers could use existing voter information in their databases to correct obvious errors or missing information in a request. But, the new rules now require them to contact voters by phone, email or snail mail in order to fill in missing or incorrect information. They are prohibited from using the information at their fingertips.
Critics say this is a form of voter suppression.
This new requirement has prompted some county auditors to announce they are sending requests with some of this information already filled in for the voter, like their name, address and voter ID number, which most voters don't even know.
All this sounds convenient, but it is raising objections from Republicans. In a letter last week, the national Republican Party wrote Pate demanding that he put a stop to this practice, claiming it is probably illegal. (We should note Scott County’s auditor has told us she is not pre-filling in this information.)
This issue is probably headed for a courtroom. It’s unfortunate, and it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the Republican election law that erected these unneeded obstacles. (It’s also noteworthy the law itself is being challenged in court.)
We hope these issues get resolved quickly. The last thing that voters need going into the election is legal uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is providing enough uncertainty already. So are the purveyors of false claims that absentee balloting — or voting entirely by mail, which a few states do — is susceptible to fraud.
Soon, you will be getting an absentee ballot request form in the mail. You don't have to use it. People who want to cast their ballots the traditional way still have that option. But for those who want to vote in the security of their own homes, it will be easier to access an alternative — thanks in large part to local election officials who have led the way.
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