SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – Thanks to an absentee voting campaign by Iowa’s Secretary of State Paul Pate, this year’s June primary included record-setting participation. Now some state lawmakers are working to rewrite the rules so a similar effort would not be possible in the future.
Late Wednesday night after hours of debate, the Iowa Senate passed a bill that would remove the secretary of state’s ability to send mail-in ballots to voters without first getting a request. Thursday election officials are among those reacting to the bill.
“The county auditors have banned together to oppose that bill because we want to do the best for the voters of Iowa,” said Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill.
In Woodbury County, this year’s primary election produced record turnout. Gill said he believes the state auditor’s push for absentee voting, as a precaution for COVID-19, played a large part in that record.
“It was great, because we were more than happy to answer those questions. Because people were participating, they saw an opportunity to make it easy for them, to participate in a safe way and that’s what they did, and we were very pleased with that outcome,” said Gill.
More than 80 percent of this year’s primary returns came from absentee ballots. Despite that number, Republican lawmakers contend the state auditor shouldn’t be able to mass mail absentee ballots. The bill would only allow ballots to be mailed after a request from a voter.
District 7 Iowa State Senator Jackie Smith, a Democrat, is one of 19 senators to vote against the bill.
“I can honestly say I have been voting by mail for so long, since about 2008, maybe not every election but quite a few because I found out it was a lot easier. And in the initial states, I felt a little, I don’t know, pause but I did it I felt like if it was offered, it would be safe,” said Smith.
Smith says she doesn’t understand why anyone would oppose more people voting.
“In Woodbury County, I’m sure the auditor told you actually more Republicans than Democrats cast a vote so it seems ironic that all democrats were getting up and arguing that we needed to do this knowing full well that it’s gonna be a lot harder for our Democrats to get out and vote,” said Smith.
“We hope that we have just as much success with this election as we did the primary election. We already have had almost 10,000 requests for the special election and we already have had 8,000 requests back which is over what you would expect in a special election,” said Gill.
The bill now heads to the Iowa house. Gill says he has hope that that the House has a good compromise that will change the future of the bill.