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'Voter suppression' : Auditors react to bills that would reduce early voting period

Under the legislation, absentee ballots requests cannot be sent to voters without a written voter request.{ }{p}{/p}
Under the legislation, absentee ballots requests cannot be sent to voters without a written voter request.

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Republican lawmakers in Iowa's House and Senate moved one step closer to passing legislation that would change how Iowans vote.

Just months after a record-breaking election, which saw 76% voter turnout and more than one million Iowans voting absentee, committees in both chambers passed separate but similar legislation Thursday that would shrink the state's early voting period.

Key components of the bills include:

- Shortening the absentee voting period from 29 days to 18

- Prohibiting county officials from mailing absentee ballot applications without a written voter request

- Shrinking the absentee ballot request period to 70 days before an election instead of 120

Iowa's Speaker of the House Pat Grassley took questions, mainly about the proposed legislation, shortly before it passed committee.

"I don't think there's any evidence to show that stops folks from coming out to vote," he says, pointing to when Iowa shortened the same period from 40 days to 29. He says that's much closer to the national average, which the National Conference of State Legislatures says is 19 days.

However, opponents worry it'll disenfranchise thousands of Iowans who just found a way to vote.

"Disappointed," says Johnson County auditor Travis Weipert. "Summed it up in two words to anyone who has asked what I think of them as voter suppression."

Weipert questions why changes are necessary when he says November's election ran smoothly. Though he has an idea that rhetoric from the national scale may play a part.

"I think mail in voting is a terrible thing," then-President Donald Trump said during one of several instances of slamming the method in the months leading up to the election.

Unverified claims of fraud, Weipert believes, are the main driver of the bills.

Republican lawmakers say they want to strengthen election security.

"There were a couple things that on their face seem like good things, increased documentation, counting, daily reports to the Secretary of State," Shannon Moudy asks Weipert. "But you're saying that's too much oversight?"

"Yeah, if you look at how things are operating right now, look at the last election. Why do we need more oversight when nothing's happening?" he responds.

The legislation would allow election officials who don't follow the rules to be punished with fines, suspensions, or even misdemeanor charges.

When asked specifically what he'd like to see changed, Speaker Grassley pointed to decisions made by some county auditors, including Weipert, that ended up in court.

"For example, having county attorneys across the state who knowingly planned on sending out the pre-filed ballots, the pre-populated ballots," he says.

Weipert, along with Linn County auditor Joel Miller and Woodbury County auditor Pat Gill, were forced to send new ballot requests to thousands of voters after judges ruled pre-filled forms were not acceptable. The bill would also allow one ballot drop box, to be placed outside the auditor's office or county property; Miller was required to remove drop boxes he had placed at Hy-Vee locations in Linn County before November's election.

Miller also bashed the legislation, releasing a statement to Iowa's News Now on Wednesday.

Vindictive. An affront to every county auditor in the State with a passion for creativity, election integrity, and increasing voter turnout.
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"I don't know if it's because some of us worked so hard to drive up our vote numbers that they're being vindictive about this," Weipert reiterates.

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