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A proposed constitutional amendment passed through the Iowa Senate State Government Committee on Monday, but not without some back and forth between Democrats and Republicans.
Senate Study Bill 3113 reduces the voting age in Iowa from 21 to 18 and changes one word that Republicans believe will make a big difference.
Sen. Roby Smith (R-Davenport) said the purpose of the proposed constitutional amendment is to ensure only U.S. citizens are voting in all Iowa elections.
“It is common sense for only United States citizens to determine the direction of our country and not allow foreign interference,” Smith said.
He then said that liberal cities across the country, like San Francisco and Chicago, are allowing non-citizens to vote.
“Even Iowa City considered expanding voting rights to non-citizens,” he said. “This amendment will make clear who can legally participate in state and local elections.”
Sen. Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines) asked Smith if current law already states a voter must be a U.S. citizen. Smith said for local elections, there’s a possibility that a local government could pass something allowing noncitizens to vote.
Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) said this bill is “critically important.”
“I do believe we have abuses happening,” Schultz said. “I don’t know if it’s outright fraud or if it is more of a subtle interpretation, but we live in a world right now where we have a sizable portion of our judiciary and the population also who believe that we live in somewhat of a, I guess I’d call it a plastic putty interpretation of the Constitution.”
Schultz said he couldn’t rule out a judge issuing a “ridiculous” interpretation that the word citizen could suddenly bloom to mean a citizen of the world.
“Judges have done worse things,” he said. “Our Founders certainly didn’t mean that, but they’ve been misinterpreted by judges before.”
He also highlighted concerns over foreign interference in elections.
“This is the perfect opportunity to eliminate foreign interference,” he said. “Let’s make it clear, only U.S. citizens are going to cast a ballot in elections from the city on up. I would ask everybody to jump on board and support this.”
Sen. Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines) said he didn’t share the same concerns. In order to be a registered voter, one has to prove their citizenship, he said. In order to vote, one has to be registered to vote.
Regardless, Bisignano said he was supportive of the bill, but not as enthusiastically as he was prior to changing the language to only U.S. citizens instead of every.
Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) said her understanding is that the bill is already in the Iowa Constitution. The difference is the bill now reads only a citizen whereas the Constitution reads every citizen. And, lines 12-14 were added to address primary elections.
Sen. Jake Chapman (R-Adel) said Travis Weipert, the Johnson County Auditor, told local media that he learned of a movement to allow foreigners to vote in the U.S. while attending a conference in Washington D.C.
“A person here in Iowa wanting foreigners to be able to vote in our elections,” Chapman said. “I think this provides the clarity we need that only citizens of Iowa and the United States can vote in our elections. I think that’s very reasonable. I’m an enthusiastic yes on this bill.”
Smith closed by providing more details. He said noncitizens have been or are allowed to vote in places throughout the country, including Illinois, which borders his district. California, New York, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the list could go on, he said.
“In 2018, (San Francisco) spent $300,000 in taxpayer money to encourage voter registration on noncitizens,” Smith said. “This is about protecting our elections. That is what we’re doing here today. Voting is a fundamental right for any citizen of this country, by allowing those who do not qualify to vote in elections only dilutes legitimate votes and diminishes the electoral process.”
The bill passed the committee unanimously.