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House File 716 made it through the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Monday. The bill removes the requirement of the Secretary of State to use ERIC, addresses the tie-breaking procedure for a primary election and allows state parties to determine the eligibility of caucusgoers including, but not limited to, voter registration.

Democrat State Sen. Herman Quirmbach continued his opposition to the bill in the committee meeting, saying it is “blatantly unconstitutional” and violates the First Amendment. Quirmbach added that “any interference” by the state government or federal government is a blatant violation of the freedom of assembly and to petition the government. He expects the bill would be challenged in court.

He also expressed frustration with the in-person requirement for those who attend any presidential caucus.

“The Democrat Party is open to people who work first shift, second shift and to people who work third shift or people who work all three,” he said. “We are moving our process in the direction of allowing broader participation. At least one of our two parties is open and is trying to get more open to broader participation for all Iowans.”

Quirmbach is also opposed to the state government allowing each party to establish its own rules based on participation and party registration. The original House bill required participants to be registered in a political party for 70 days prior to the caucus to participate, but now the bill allows each party to create its own rules for that.

“One of the beautiful things about the Iowa Caucus is it generates a whole lot of debate and discussion across the whole range of our citizenry,” he said.

Quirmbach said Iowans can sample opinions and candidates of one party or the other based on what they want the day of the caucus. He called the caucus a “great, great expression of grassroots democracy.”

The potential of a 70-day pre-registration requirement would “shut out” the vast majority of Iowans, Quirmbach claimed.

“The Democrat Party would never, never, never think to impose that kind of a requirement,” he said. “We’re open to discussion and we have a lot of reason to believe we can persuade people who might not be Democrats but who will be attracted by our candidates and our platforms and bring them into our party. Ours is an open and welcoming party. The original Republican legislation paints their party as being a closed operation.”

Democrat State Sen, Pam Jochum said she was “very disappointed” to see Iowa withdraw from the ERIC system.

“I think it has done a good job of maintaining and updating our voter registration files,” she added.

Republican State Sen. Brad Zaun said when the original bill was discussed in the House he had some reservations because he doesn’t like the state legislature meddling in the activities of state parties, but said the bill is necessary to save the Iowa Caucus.

Zaun said he has had it brought to his attention that if mail-in voting was allowed in the caucus, then New Hampshire would consider it a primary and move its up presidential primary ahead of Iowa due to New Hampshire law.

“Everyone around this table knows what a caucus is versus what a primary is,” he said. “If for some reason the Democrats decide to go where you can mail in the vote, it jumps New Hampshire ahead of Iowa, which would include the Republican caucus as well. I believe that this is the right thing to do because it will save the Iowa Caucuses.”

Zaun also said Quirmbach’s notion that Democrats care about people who work all three shifts is “ridiculous.”

“We want everybody to be able to participate in a caucus,” Zaun said. “We told employers they should allow people to participate in caucuses. To say that people are shut out — these are the same old, worn-out talking points that’s been used about voter integrity laws that we’ve done in the past where we’ve had record turnout. I don’t agree with that as well.”

The bill passed the Iowa Senate Ways & Means Committee by an 11-6 vote.


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