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Because of the actions taken by the Iowa State Legislature in the past, Iowa has a strong election system and had a successful 2020 election. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be improved. Iowa law has been pro-active for election integrity and security for years because we always come behind to close loopholes that we find during an election. The 2020 election exposed some things we can do to strengthen our election system, especially to ensure that mistakes made in other states don’t happen here. At the same time, we also make accommodations for the elderly, disabled and military members serving overseas.

Faith in our elections is low and we must take steps to address that. Iowans need an election system they can trust. It must be safe, secure, and honest. Faith in our elections is critical to our republic. The goal is: Easy to Vote, Hard to Cheat.

High points of this new law include:

  • Creates and strengthens election misconduct penalties for election officials who willfully disregard the law (such as was done by 3 county auditors in the last election). One such penalty is a fine up to $10,000
    • This provides accountability for bad actors, but allows for discretion and creates an appeal process for honest mistakes (Current law does not have an appeals process).
  • Shortens absentee ballot request period to 70 days (from 120)
  • Shortens mailing period for absentee ballots to 20 days (from 29)
    • Including Election Day, a voter will have 21 days or 3 weeks to vote.
    • With this change, Iowa will still have a longer early voting period than 26 other states.
  • In-person voting at courthouse and satellite voting starts at 20 days (from 29)
    • Making election officials show public interest by petitioning to have a satellite voting location.
  • Closing polls at 8 p.m. (requested by auditors)
    • Even with this change, Iowa’s polls will stay open later than the national average of 7:30pm.
  • Mandates voter registration maintenance for Secretary of State (SOS) and county auditors
    • Outdated voter databases provide opportunity for unnoticed fraud. There will be less chance of mailing an absentee ballot request form to someone who has moved away.
    • The SOS will perform annual voter list maintenance and publish a report online.
    • County commissioners will participate in the USPS national change of address program.
    • Prohibits pre-filled absentee ballot request forms (except for type and date of election)
    • Prohibits mailing unsolicited ballot request forms
    • Restricts ballot harvesting or return of an absentee ballot to:
    • The voter himself
    • Individual who lives in the same house as the voter
    • An immediate family member
    • A qualified caretaker
    • County auditor’s office will have one secure drop box on county property, video surveillance to monitor all activity at the drop box, securely fastened to a stationary surface, and be locked with a tamper evident seal.
    • Only absentee ballots received by the county auditor before 8pm on election night will be counted.
    • This will not affect military absentee ballots, anyone oversees, or who participates in the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home program.
    • If a voter arrives to a polling location after polls are closed they are not allowed to vote, this bill applies the same to absentee voters. There are plenty of ways for a voter to plan to deliver their ballot with 21 days to vote and a multitude of options of for returning an absentee ballot.
    • By enforcing a strict deadline for the absentee ballots it guarantees that every county has the same standard for counting ballots.

During debate it was charged that this bill would be “voter suppression”. It doesn’t appear any votes were “suppressed” because since the last time we updated the election law, the voter turnout for this past election was higher than ever. A voter must have some responsibility or “skin in the game” for exercising his right to vote. That’s the only way we can have fair and honest elections.

More to come in future newsletters on election integrity.

Bills Passed by House

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Funding – Current law allows a city or a county to levy a tax of no more than $1/$1000 of assessed value on taxable property to fund EMS if 60% of the voters approve. This bill allows an additional tax to be levied if their current amount is not enough to fund EMS and it would also have to be approved by a majority of the voters. To determine how much additional tax would be levied, the city or county first would be required to determine the amount of funding needed for EMS. This bill would allow the additional tax to continue unless a majority of voters decide to discontinue it.

The bill also approved a 2nd way to increase EMS funding for counties:  A county can declare EMS an essential service within the county. If it does that, then the county would be required to determine the amount of funding needed for EMS (just like above). Based on that, the county could impose a property tax, an income surtax or a combination of both, subject to the approval of a majority of voters. Just like above, the bill would allow the additional tax to continue unless a majority of voters decide to discontinue it.

Donor Privacy – This bill protects people who donate time or money to a tax exempt (501 c) organization from having their personal information revealed without their consent. This has been needed because donors to certain 501 c organizations have been harassed and threatened once their names have been made public.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident – This bill provides that an individual that leaves the scene of an accident that caused injury or death and later realizes they were involved in the accident, that they must contact EMS immediately and provide information on the accident.

Dentist Vaccinations – If dentists meet certain training requirements about vaccines and immunizations, they would be allowed to administer the flu and COVID vaccines.

Amusement Park Operator – This changes the age for an amusement park employee to be able to operate amusement park rides from 18 down to 16.

Electric Bicycles – This establishes regulations for electric bicycles, similar to that of 26 other states. They are not treated like motorcycles or regular vehicles.

Author: Sandy Salmon