Latino Voting Rights Group Sues to Block New Iowa Law

The group claims new voting restrictions, part of a nationwide trend following the 2020 presidential election, create an undue burden on Iowa minority voters.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds greets Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, a fellow Republican, after delivering her Condition of the State address in Des Moines in January. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

(CN) — A Latino voting rights group filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Iowa’s controversial new voting regulations.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa filed the complaint against Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate and Attorney General Thomas Miller in Polk County District Court. LULAC seeks an order prohibiting them from enforcing the law, claiming it infringes on the right to vote, especially for those in minority communities.

“It creates an undue burden on our constitutional right to vote,” LULAC Political Director Joe Henry said in an interview. “It reduces the amount of time that that our community members can vote early. It reduces the amount of hours that people can vote on the day of the election. And it removes our community members who miss one general election, so they are invisible to us, and also places restrictions on county auditors on what they’re able to do to promote the right to vote.”

The law, passed by the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature and signed by the Republican governor on Monday, shortens the early voting period to 20 days from the current 29, and requires most mail-in ballots to be received by Election Day, rather than allowing election officials to count votes postmarked by Election Day that arrive by noon on the Monday following the election.

Voting sites will close at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., and county election officials are banned from sending out absentee ballot request forms unless requested.

The law also states that satellite voting sites can only be set up if enough voters petition for one, and voters will be removed from active rolls if they miss a single general election and don’t report a change in address or register as a voter again.

Henry said these changes create a burden on minority voters, especially state Latinos whose median age is 23, which is 15 years younger than Iowa’s median age of 38.

“Many of our young people were voting for the first time this last election, many more will vote for the first time in the upcoming general election,” he said. “Our young people, many of which are working more than one job, or going to school, may not be able to vote on the day of the election, they will need to vote early.”

Henry also said a provision in the bill limiting who can return a voter’s absentee ballot to only family members or caregivers is “unconscionable.”

Republicans supporting the measure claimed the new restrictions were needed to maintain election security, though no notable accusations of voter fraud were made in Iowa in the last election cycle. Former President Donald Trump carried Iowa by 53% of the vote in November.

Henry said the legislation is an attempt by the GOP to maintain control of the state by suppressing the vote. He said just 5% of the Latino community in Iowa is registered as Republican, compared to the 35% registered as Democrats.

“This is the playbook,” Henry said. “When you have a community and it’s composed of many immigrants, just the dynamics of it, you know, looking at how they vote, the Republican-led Legislature here in Iowa knew exactly what they were doing.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Iowa Constitution’s right to vote, free speech, free assembly and equal protection. It was filed by lead attorney Gary Dickey with Dickey, Campbell & Sahag in Des Moines.

“None of the bill’s challenged provisions will actually serve to make elections more secure or increase the public’s confidence in the electoral process,” the complaint states. “Instead, they will impose undue and unjustified burdens on a wide range of lawful voters, including some of the state’s most vulnerable and underrepresented citizens: minority voters, elderly voters, disabled voters, voters with chronic health conditions, voters who work multiple jobs, and voters who lack access to reliable transportation or consistent mail service.”

A spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union backs the lawsuit.

“This law is nothing less than voter suppression, pure and simple,” Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said in a statement. “It was pushed forward by politicians who have yet to produce a single case of voter fraud that they say these measures would prevent.”

The ACLU claims the law harms all minorities, not just Latinos, as well as other disadvantaged members of the community.

“Early voting, absentee ballots, satellite voting, and keeping voting booths open longer all make it easier for people to vote,” Stringer said. “There is absolutely no evidence that these measures encourage any fraud.”

Iowa’s law follows a nationwide trend with Republican-led legislatures in restricting voting laws in the wake of Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud after he was routed by Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. On Monday, Republicans in Georgia, a state that went for a Democratic president for the first time in nearly three decades, passed a bill that repeals no-excuse absentee voting.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the historic turnout last year has resulted in a GOP backlash through a massive influx of bills aimed at restricting voter access across the country. Since the election, 28 states have introduced, prefiled or carried 106 restrictive voting bills compared to just 35 such bills in 15 states the year before.

On the flip side, Brennan reports, other state lawmakers are seizing on an energized voter base to push democracy reform. As of Jan. 26, the group reports 35 states have introduced, prefiled or carried 406 bills expanding voter access, compared to 188 such bills in 29 states the year before.

Most of these bills have focused on the issue of absentee voting, which was central to Trump’s claims of fraud.

“We’re fighting this on behalf of Iowa,” Henry said. “We are fighting for all Iowans to ensure the right to vote and to prevent this bill that creates an undue burden on our right to vote.”

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