Iowa Republicans’ new voting restrictions have already tripped up many voters trying to participate in local elections, including even one member of Congress.
Congresswoman Cindy Axne wrote on Facebook yesterday that she got a denial letter for her request for an absentee ballot for this Tuesday’s special election. Des Moines and West Des Moines are holding a vote on a proposed one-cent sales tax increase.
Axne had sent in an absentee request on February 24, and she didn’t receive the denial letter until February 28. The 24th was two days after the new cut-off date for requesting a ballot. The election is on March 5. Republican legislators voted to change the final day for absentee requests from the Friday before the election to 11 days before the election.
“This is what voter suppression looks like,” Axne wrote. “I got the denial letter a full six days before the election. I could have received the ballot instead and turned it around to be counted before Election Day.”
The change was part of a new set of voting restrictions passed back in 2017, which included a voter I.D. provision, eliminated straight-ticket voting, and limited the number of early voting days. A soft rollout of the voter I.D. began in last year’s elections; in 2019, the various forms of I.D. are required to cast a non-provisional ballot.
“How does it help our state to deny voters their right to vote?” Axne asked. “The new law changed the deadline from the Friday before the election to eleven days before the election. Iowans deserve better than this. Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent or Libertarian, we should protect our democracy.”
Many county auditors had requested pushing up the absentee deadline to some extent. Receiving a request the Friday before the election gave almost no time to send out the ballot, get the voter to fill it out, and return it in time. However, moving the deadline all the way to 11 days out was criticized for going too far in the opposite direction.
It’s particularly problematic for local contests like this one that receive far less attention than last year’s general election. Voters may not hear about the race until closer to the election date, and only then realize they won’t be in town to cast their ballot in-person that day.
Also, plenty of people are just busy. Obviously, Axne would have been fine had she sent in a request a few days earlier, but it’s a good example of how this can happen to anyone. Even Iowans who are well-versed on election law can find themselves in a bind if they haven’t planned out for weeks how they’re going to vote. That issue can snag a lot of people with packed schedules like folks who are, say, representing Iowa in Congress. The U.S. House is back in session on Tuesday.
The new Democratic House majority’s first bill was HR 1, which Axne co-sponsored, a sweeping piece of legislation that aimed to make it easier for Americans to vote.
by Pat Rynard