DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa secretary of state will send absentee ballot requests forms to all registered voters ahead of the November election after the Legislative Council approved his request on Friday.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, sent out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of the June 2 primary, which broke state records for turnout. Iowans largely voted absentee as a result, with mail-in ballots making up 80% of the more than 530,000 votes cast.
But despite a primary that was touted as a success, Republicans in the Iowa legislature when they returned only days later in June from a hiatus due to the pandemic tried to prohibit him from sending widespread absentee ballot applications altogether, citing an overreach of powers and—without substantial evidence— the potential for voter fraud. Lawmakers struck a bipartisan deal to allow the secretary of state to make such a move again in the General Election if he got the approval of the 24-member Legislative Council, made up of Republican and Democratic leadership and long-time members of the legislature.
On Friday, the council met to consider Pate's proposed emergency directive that would allow him to send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters as he did in June. The order would also require county auditors to distribute a blank absentee ballot request form from the secretary of state's office "to ensure uniformity and to provide voters with consistent guidance on the absentee ballot application process."
The legislative panel approved his proposal.
“I want Iowa voters and poll workers to be safe during this pandemic while we conduct a clean, fair and secure election. After consulting with all 99 county auditors, I believe the best way to accomplish that goal is by mailing an absentee ballot request form to every active registered voter in the state," Pate said in a statement. "Voters will still have the option of casting their ballot in person and we will provide resources to protect Iowans who choose that method. This process worked great in the June primary and I believe it will work in the general election.”
But before they gave the green light for Pate's November election plan, Democrats proposed striking the provision that would require county auditors to send only a blank absentee ballot request form from the Iowa Secretary of State's office. They also tried to add a requirement of re-sending by mail every voter's Voter ID pin number, which they are assigned if they don't have a driver's license, military ID, or other approved forms of identification needed to vote in Iowa.
"It's been several years since the secretary of state sent out those pin numbers. I have no idea what mine is," said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City. "So mailing out the pin immediately preceding the mailing of the [absentee ballot request form] would make the process clearer and easier for the voters. That pin number belongs to them —it certainly should be provided to them."
At least one county auditor, Joel Miller in Linn County, was planning on sending out absentee ballot applications to all active voters in his county with the voter PIN already numbers on them.
Republicans voted that proposal down. Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, who leads the Republicans in the chamber said the part requiring blank forms ensures that the absentee ballot request process is "secure."
"Those who do not have the pin number can call and get it from their county auditor," Whitver said. "This is not a difficult thing to do. Iowans want secure elections."
He added: "With this order, any auditor who sends out the pre-populated form with the Voter ID pin is frankly ignoring the law. Period."
Democrats called it a "scare tactic" and "misleading" to suggest mailing a pin number will perpetuate fraud.
Separately, Republicans in Iowa legislature on the final day of session, approved a bill that would prevent county auditors from filling in incomplete or incorrect information on absentee ballot applications using their voter database, a move that county auditors say could slow down the process of voting by mail for some Iowans.
Read secretary of state's emergency directive authorizing mass-mailings absentee ballot request forms here: