Iowa Judge Blocks New Rules for Absentee Ballots

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – An Iowa judge issued a temporary injunction halting enforcement of a new state law that limits voters’ ability to cast absentee ballots in state and national elections.

(AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

The injunction, which was issued late Tuesday and made available Wednesday, came in response to a lawsuit filed in May by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, or LULAC, and an Iowa State University student.

The Polk County District Court complaint against the Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate called the state’s new restrictions on voting rights unconstitutional and particularly burdensome for minorities, disabled and elderly voters and college students.

Pate said in a statement released late Wednesday he would immediately appeal the injunction to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The new law enacted in 2017 made a number of significant changes in Iowa’s voting rules, including a requirement that voters show a photo ID or an approved substitute ID at the polls, new restrictions on absentee ballots, and the elimination of straight-party voting.

Wednesday’s injunction affects only the absentee ballot provisions, however, because those are already in effect and would impact voters in this November’s election.

Polk County Judge Karen Romano did, however, find that the secretary of state’s publicity campaign regarding the timing of the voter ID rule is confusing and interferes with Iowans’ right to vote.

Other provisions of the legislation, known as House File 516, including the photo ID requirement, do not go into effect until 2019.

Meanwhile, the trial court will hear arguments in the broader lawsuit brought by the LULAC and Iowa State student Taylor Blair.

In granting the injunction against absentee ballot rules, Judge Romano agreed with the petitioners that Iowa’s law will cause voters irreparable harm by shortening by 11 days the absentee-voting period, requiring election officials to match signatures on absentee ballot applications and ballots, and requiring voters to supply an identification number on ballot applications.

Romano noted that the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that “voting is a fundamental right in Iowa [and] occupies an irreducibly vital role in our system of government by providing citizens with a voice in our democracy and in the election of those who make laws by which we must all live.”

The judge wrote that absentee-voting laws have been on the books in Iowa for nearly a century.

“The law has evolved over the last century but the constraints put on the right to vote absentee by the challenged provisions of HF 516 are a clear burden on the longstanding fundamental right to vote,” she wrote.

In his statement Wednesday, the Iowa secretary of state said the injunction was disappointing.

“Out-of-state dark money and Washington, D.C., lawyers have come into Iowa to try to overturn our election laws. The people of Iowa overwhelmingly support voter ID and their elected representatives enacted a law that makes it easy to vote, but hard to cheat,” Pate said. “My office has worked diligently with organizations across the state, including the plaintiffs in this case, to inform all Iowans about the provisions of this new law. The plaintiffs have not shown a single Iowan has been disenfranchised by this bill.”

LULAC said in a statement Wednesday that it was pleased that Romano blocked enforcement of the “burdensome absentee voting restrictions and ordered Secretary of State Paul Pate to halt his deceptive advertising campaign around the state’s impending voter identification requirements.”

“When eligible Iowa citizens cast their ballots this fall — in person or by mail — they should not be encumbered by the onerous and discriminatory restrictions contained in HF 516 or misled about the new ID requirements,” the group said. “Today’s ruling is just the first step to ensuring that every Iowan is able to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

A request for comment from Secretary of State Pate was not immediately returned Wednesday.

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