Upon seeing record-shattering turnout in Iowa’s June primary thanks largely to widespread absentee voting, Iowa Republicans returned to the Statehouse intent on making sure that wouldn’t happen again. After a record 531,131 Iowans cast a primary ballot, Republican legislators used the abbreviated legislative session to pass new restrictions on the Secretary of State and to make filling out an absentee request form more difficult.
This morning, Republicans on the state’s Legislative Council enforced their newly-imposed oversight of the Secretary of State, killing a Democratic proposal to fund a statewide absentee request mailer.
But a review of the state voter file that Starting Line obtained today shows that those same Republican lawmakers enjoyed taking advantage of Iowa’s early vote option during the pandemic.
Thirty-seven of the Iowa House’s 53 Republicans, or 70%, voted absentee in the primary. Twenty-two of the state’s 32 Republican senators, or 69%, also cast an absentee ballot.
There’s a little bit of a distinction here to know. In Iowa, you can vote early by mail or in-person at your county auditor’s office (or sometimes at early satellite locations, but those weren’t happening during the pandemic). When you vote early in-person, what you’re filling out is an absentee ballot. So either way, voting early is technically recorded by the state as voting “absentee,” but “absentee” doesn’t necessarily mean you voted by mail.
Looking through the voter file data, it seems several of the Republican legislators may have voted early absentee in-person because it lists the day they requested an absentee ballot as the same day they voted early. Local records of this can sometimes vary, but that’s most likely what that indicates.
Six of the 37 House Republicans likely voted absentee in-person, while one Republican senator did.
That still leaves a strong majority of Republican lawmakers who voted in the primary by mail, at least some of whom probably requested their absentee ballot from the secretary of state’s mailing.
Among the Republicans who voted by mail are Speaker Pat Grassley, Senate President Charles Schneider, and all three of the GOP state legislators who are running for Congress — Randy Feenstra, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson. President Donald Trump has repeatedly discouraged voting by mail, even though he also does it himself.
Many election officials had praised Secretary of State Paul Pate’s decision to mail out absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters in order to help people vote safely from home during the pandemic and reduce the pressure on in-person voting sites. Overall, 82.5% of Democrats who voted in the primary did so by absentee, while 71.6% of Republicans did.
Given that the pandemic will almost certainly still be raging on come November, it’s expected that a very high percentage of Iowans will want to vote absentee then, as well. But Republican legislators felt merely sending out the request forms was an overreach of power for Pate.
So, in the final days of the abbreviated 2020 legislative session, Republicans quickly pushed through legislation that would force the Secretary of State to seek the Legislative Council’s approval were he to want to send out requests for the November election. Today, the Republicans on that council killed a request by Democrats to do just that.
On a party-line, 13 to 9 vote, Republicans shot down Sen. Pam Jochum’s proposal to let Pate utilize federal CARES Act funds to pay for an absentee request mailing.
Jochum’s constituents in Dubuque, however, will be getting a mass request form mailer. The local county auditor there has decided to send one out again to all voters. That’s one aspect of this that Republicans have not seemed to think through — local Democratic auditors will likely send out requests in urban, Democratic counties, while those in rural ones may not, taking their party’s cues on the matter.
Though it’s not clear that Republican legislators even knew what the bill they passed did, at least according to one Democratic lawmaker’s remarks from the meeting:
Legislative Council met this morning – Republican leadership had to *double check* what laws they changed 3 weeks ago making it harder to vote. Could not remember if they had prohibited auditors from vote by mail or just SoS.
Shows a real flaw, need for new leadership. #ialegis
— Rep. Chris Hall (@HallForIowa) July 1, 2020
Below we list the Republican legislators who voted absentee in the June 3 primary. We put an asterisk next to the ones who may have voted early absentee in-person, and we have bolded the names of those on the Legislative Council.
State Senators (district, home county)
Jerry Behn, SD 24, Boone
Michael Breitbach, SD 28, Clayton
Waylon Brown, SD 26, Mitchell
Chris Cournoyer, SD 49, Scott
Dan Dawson, SD 8, Pottawattamie
Jeff Edler, SD 36, Marshall
Randy Feenstra, SD 2, Sioux
Julian Garrett, SD 13, Warren
Tom Greene, SD 44, Des Moines
Dennis Guth, SD 4, Hancock
Craig Johnson*, SD 32, Buchanan
Tim Kapucian, SD 38, Benton
Carrie Koelker, SD 29, Dubuque
Mark Lofgren, SD 46, Muscatine
Mariannette Miller-Meeks, SD 41, Wapello
Zach Nunn, SD 15, Polk
Ken Rozenboom, SD 40, Mahaska
Charles Schneider, SD 22, Dallas
Mark Segebart, SD 6, Crawford
Tom Shipley, SD 11, Adams
Zach Whiting, SD 1, Dickinson
Dan Zumbach, SD 48, Delaware
State Representatives (district, county)
Robert Bacon*, HD 48, Story
Michael Bergan, HD 55, Winneshiek
Jacob Bossman, HD 6, Woodbury
Gary Carlson, HD 91, Muscatine
Dave Deyoe, HD 49, Story
Cecil Dolecheck, HD 24, Ringgold
Dean Fisher, HD 72, Tama
Joel Fry, HD 27, Clarke
Tedd Gassman, HD 7, Winnebago
Pat Grassley, HD 50, Butler
Stan Gustafson, HD 25, Madison
Lee Hein, HD 96, Jones
Ashley Hinson, HD 67, Linn
Dustin Hite, HD 79, Mahaska
Steven Holt*, HD 18, Crawford
Daniel Huseman, HD 3, Cherokee
Megan Jones, HD 2, Clay
David Kerr, HD 88, Louisa
Jarad Klein, HD 78, Washington
John Landon, HD 37, Polk
Brian Lohse, HD 30, Polk
David Maxwell, HD 76, Poweshiek
Ann Meyer, HD 9, Webster
Joe Mitchell, HD 84, Henry
Gary Mohr, HD 94, Scott
Norlin Mommsen*, HD 97, Clinton
Sandy Salmon, HD 63, Black Hawk
Mike Sexton, HD 10, Calhoun
Jeff Shipley*, HD 82, Van Buren
David Sieck, HD 23, Mills
Ray Sorensen, HD 20, Adair
Phil Thompson, HD 47, Greene
Jon Thorup*, HD 28, Marion
Linda Upmeyer, HD 54, Cerro Gordo
John Wills*, HD 1, Dickinson
Matt Windschitl, HD 17, Harrison
Louis Zumbach, HD 95, Linn
by Pat Rynard
Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.