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Bill to Curb Mailing IA Absentee Ballot Forms Raises Concerns

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State officials say nearly 80% of the votes cast in Iowa's June 2 primary came through absentee ballots. (Adobe Stock)
State officials say nearly 80% of the votes cast in Iowa's June 2 primary came through absentee ballots. (Adobe Stock)
June 12, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa - A bill in the Iowa Legislature would restrict the state from mailing out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, like it did during the recent primary. The measure is drawing fierce backlash as the state looks ahead to the November election.

In response to COVID-19, the Secretary of State mailed out the forms, so anyone worried about their health could vote absentee. That resulted in record turnout.

But a Republican senator's bill would prohibit doing that again automatically. Anthony Carroll, associate state director for advocacy with AARP Iowa, says his organization hopes that isn't the case, since some of their members indicated they liked the option.

"They liked it," says Carroll. "They thought it made a lot of sense, it was easy to be able to do so."

Carroll says he hopes the bill, which has cleared the Senate, will at least include amendments to provide the Secretary of State's office with flexibility.

Other opponents of the bill say it amounts to voter suppression. Its sponsor dismisses that claim, saying the Legislature hasn't set aside funds for the mailings, and that there are other provisions that expand voter access.

Carroll points out there's still a lot of uncertainty about what the pandemic will look like in November, and says AARP Iowa supports protecting voters and creating more ways to participate.

He says the state also needs to be mindful of volunteers at polling locations.

"Poll workers tend to be older people," says Carroll. "They value being able to do that. We support their ability to do that. But not surprisingly, this time around, there was concern. And I think, frankly, we'll be concerned about people being out there and exposed to large numbers of the public."

Other states, like North Dakota, also did a statewide mail-out of absentee applications for their primaries.

Outside of the absentee debate, there are calls for a national vote-by-mail this fall due to the pandemic. But many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, oppose that idea.

They cite voter fraud concerns, despite studies suggesting that isn't the case.

Disclosure: AARP Iowa contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Community Issues and Volunteering, Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - IA