The Iowa House held a public hearing on Monday night as Iowans were able to sound off on a bill that would help strengthen Iowa’s election integrity.
Alan Ostergren, the president and chief counsel of Kirkwood Institute, spoke in support of House File 590. Ostergren noted that the last time he was at such a hearing it was about Iowa’s Voter ID law. At the time, he said he heard a number of comments about how it would end democracy.
“We’ve had two very successful elections since that time,” he said. “A lot of the rhetoric about election security measures is overblown and name-calling doesn’t enhance the substance of the debate.”
At the heart of the issue, Ostergren said, is the need for uniformity when it comes to Iowa’s elections. Three county auditors failed to follow the law in 2020.
“Every Iowa judge, every single Iowa judge who heard those cases came to the same conclusion,” Ostergren said. “That those auditors had overstepped their bounds and needed to be ordered to obey the law. It shouldn’t take political campaigns and a candidate going to court to make Iowa public officials obey the law, they should do it on their own.”
Emily Silliman spoke against the bill. Her biggest concern is the provision which she says threatens county auditors and ordinary poll workers with fines and jail time for “merely asking a disruptive observer to stop interfering with the process.”
“This opens the door for armed thugs and people from outside the state to intimidate voters on election day and intimidate auditor’s office staff while they count absentee ballots,” Silliman said. “This bill is riddled with one provision after another that makes it harder for Iowans to exercise the right to vote.”
Andy Conlin, representing Opportunity Solution Project, spoke in favor of the bill, noting that Iowans have a right to know elections are uniform across the state.
“We believe the most important parts of this bill are the ones that make sure elections are administered uniformly across this state,” Conlin said. “Iowans in Denison should know that elections that are happening in Iowa City are happening exactly the same way as they are in their town and vice versa. This is extremely important. Every Iowan should be voting by the same rules.”
Ronda Bern spoke in support of the bill.
“We have processes and laws and they need to be followed,” Bern said. “You can’t have someone doing home rule power, saying that, ‘well we’re going to change it.’ Processes need to be followed.”
Bern said she sees the bill as ensuring the processes are followed.
“People seem to forget that we’ve never done mail-in ballot as a nation,” she said. “This is absolutely ridiculous. I feel like elections are turning into whoever can collect the most ballots to win. I remember when election day was that – a day – I was proud, I went in, I would’ve done anything to vote.”
Deidre DeJear spoke against the bill. She quoted the state motto.
“Iowa has a long, rich history of being on the front lines of social justice and racial justice and voting justice,” she said. “In the first election, the first election in this country, only white male landowners could vote. Look at how far we’ve come. Let us not restrict democracy but allow democracy to simply exist.”
Emily Russell, a law student, spoke in support of the bill.
“Very few things are more fundamental to the success of this country and of this state than our elections,” she said. “Which is why election misconduct is a very serious matter.”
Russell said it should be “exceptionally difficult” for anyone to cheat.
“I cannot fathom why that is a controversial opinion in a state like Iowa where we are often admired for our values,” Russell added. “We need to face the reality that after recent events surrounding the 2020 election, many Americans do not have faith in our elections. This should concern all of you because it affects all of us. If we don’t start taking steps to increase public confidence in the integrity of our elections now, all of us will continue to live in a divided society.”
Another area of the bill Russell supports is the crackdown on ballot harvesting.
“As someone who has dealt with various political organizations over the years, the concept of ballot harvesting is very unsettling to me,” she said. “Political parties, campaigns and special interest groups should never be trusted to collect and return a voter’s ballot. If that doesn’t raise fed flags in your head, then you aren’t paying attention to the state of our current political climate.”
Ken Smith, who spoke on behalf of the Association of Mature American Citizens, said the bill puts accountability into law.
“Voter registration maintenance is a requirement,” he said. “It should be, it should’ve always been, why it isn’t don’t ask. The idea that in current law you can register and request an absentee ballot at 120 days, that’s four months folks.”
Smith said people would die between the time they request the ballot and election day.
“Our form of government is not easy,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be easy. We’re supposed to work at being responsible citizens.”
Smith said if 18 days ahead of election day is a problem, then the problem is with the postal service – not the election system.
Cindy Golding addressed a couple of issues about the bill. She said she lives on a farm and they receive mail for their neighbors and vice versa – not intentionally.
“When we got those fille din absentee ballot request forms, they were filled in with our names, our birthdays, our pin numbers from our Voter ID card and all you had to do was sign it and mail it back,” she said. “All that they would do at the auditor’s office is look at the signature on the request form to the signature on the ballot. Without having any idea if it was the voter that actually filled that out.
“Knowing the problems that we have with our regular mail, there’s so much that we do that we have to be careful of because our mail goes in other peoples’ boxes and we get theirs So for voting, the fact that an auditor would take it upon himself to mail out prefilled out registration forms is unconscionable. I was shocked.”
She also expressed concerns about ballot harvesting. A few years ago, she ran for office and shared stories from old ladies who had people pick up their ballots from their son’s union and they were told they filled out their ballots wrong but the guy told her she filled it out wrong and they threw it away.
Gary Leffler spoke in support of the bill.
“We have men and women that served our country, they gave their lives so that we have honest and forthright elections,” Leffler said. “That’s what we’re here to maintain today.”
Leffler said if we don’t maintain the integrity of our elections, we don’t have anything. He would also like to see lawmakers take aim at Dominion Voting Machines.
“I was at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said. “What people are a little bit concerned about is this, voter integrity. The Dominion machines, I didn’t see anywhere in this bill where it specifically approached that, and I would like to see have some of the language and take a look at that and talk about these Dominion machines because right now you’ve got half the people that voted in a national election that are feeling like yesterday’s newspaper in the bottom of a birdcage. And they’re trying to figure out how in the world did this happen. So you must restore integrity back into our voting. I think this bill goes a long way into getting that done.”
Linda Serra Hagedorn said that many people in Iowa do not have access to the internet, which would be required to print an absentee ballot request form.
“Many people lack the resources to do this,” she said. “You need a computer, a printer and an internet connection to do this.”
Laura Hessburg of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence also spoke against the bill. She said the group believes Iowa doesn’t have a voter integrity problem.
“Domestic violence is a major barrier to voting,” Hessburg said.
Pat Gill, the Democrat auditor from Woodbury County who was one of the rogue county auditors who violated state law last fall, spoke against the bill. He said the bill would make an “internal fracture” between county auditors and the Secretary of State worse.
Gill also said there’s an external threat, which he described as the verification process for voters who choose to vote by mail. The legislation doesn’t address a couple of scenarios he talked about on Monday.
Ryan Dokter, the Sioux County Auditor and president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, said there are several areas of concern with the bill.
Dokter, who represents one of the most Republican counties in the state, said the bill creates a hardship by taking away satellite voting stations set up at the auditor’s discretion.
He also said it may mean an increase in absentee voting at the courthouse, by mail or on election day.
“I believe it is the last thing any of us want is to think that voting is too hard or not convenient by limiting the options to vote,” he said.
Dokter also said that giving more power to the Secretary of State may give the position “too much power.”
He said that uniformity in elections is good, but what is “also good” is how each county might do something slightly different than another county. He attempted to make the case that allowing for counties to do things differently would bring more integrity to elections.
“If someone wants to interfere with elections, then they’ll know to be successful in every county not just a few with complete uniformity,” Dokter said.
Bryan Jack Holder, who has run multiple times for Congress in the Third District as a Libertarian, expressed anger at the legislature for changing ballot access requirements.
“I speak here today for all of the little people in opposition to this purported election bill which is merely tyranny by another name,” he said. “We the people no longer have representative government nor free and fair elections when independent and third-party candidates are punished with undue burdens and arbitrary capricious standards to secure ballot access.”
Holder called the bill “absolutely ridiculous and completely unnecessary.”
“This bill treats libertarians and independents as second-class citizens by forcing us to meet ballot access requirements similar to the two-party tyranny candidates while at the same time denying us a primary election,” Holder said.
The Iowa Constitution, Article 3 Section 29, Holder said states every act is supposed to embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.
“This bill covers a multitude of subjects that have nothing to do with each other,” Holder said. “Should you pass this, libertarians will have no other option but to run against each and every one of you in the primary and general elections because it’s not fair.”
Jennifer Irwin spoke against the bill, calling the entire bill embarrassing. Irwin said military men and women need voting by mail and they trust it.
“The only people worried about voting by mail are people who are upset that our current President was elected and people who are upset that he was elected by people who voted by mail,” she said. “We all see what this is, you are not hiding, it’s embarrassing.”
Irwin predicted that in 2022, we’ll “probably still be dealing” with the COVID pandemic. She said elections during a pandemic require time and space.
Jena Newell supported the bill. She said she is very proud of the work Iowa has done to protect the integrity of the vote, but as a poll watcher, she saw several issues to be concerned about moving forward.
Newell said while at the polling place, she heard a voter admit to having received an absentee ballot at home but came to vote at the polling place where they received another ballot. Then, both polling officials were forced to move 25 feet away from the register counter, separated by a glass wall and doorway.
“I couldn’t see or hear anything,” she said. “I wasn’t sure why I was there then.”
Newell also said she witnessed people delivering stacks of ballots with no questions asked. There were other concerns, but her time had expired.
Nathaniel Gavronsky spoke in support of the bill. He said he talks with thousands of Iowans every year about things they want to see accomplished and things they want to see stopped.
“One thing I have not heard any of them talk about is how they’re not able to vote,” Gavronsky said.
If they weren’t able to vote, he said, they’d bring it up. His conversations are not partisan in nature.
Gavronsky also said some of the problems seem to be with the post office.
“People do want to make sure that our vote has integrity,” he said. “A lot of people had some doubts on the legitimacy of this past election. To not address this issue would be, I believe, a mistake by the state legislature.”