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Iowa lawmakers advance bills limiting voting by mail and early voting

DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL) — Iowa lawmakers are advancing bills that would shorten the state’s early voting period, limit absentee ballot collection, and create new criminal charges for county auditors who fail to follow state rules.

Senate File 413 and House File 590, passed out of separate Senate and House subcommittees respectively on Wednesday. Both bills are now eligible for full committee votes.

The bill would cut the state’s mail and in-person early voting period from 29 days to 18 days just four years after Republicans whittled it down from 40 days. The bill would also reduce the absentee ballot request period from 120 days to 70 days before an election.

More than 1.7 million Iowans voted in the 2020 election. shattering the state’s record with nearly 76% of registered voters participating. More than a million Iowans cast their votes early in person or by mail, seeking to avoid crowded polling places in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If signed into law, Iowa’s 99 county auditors would no longer be allowed to send absentee ballot request forms to voters. Voters could still obtain forms on their own and send them in requesting an absentee ballot, but they wouldn’t receive a request form directly in the mail from their county auditor.

Only the Iowa Secretary of State would be allowed to send absentee ballot request forms with the approval of the Iowa Legislature, or the Legislative Council. Any forms sent to voters would have to be left completely blank. Republican groups, including the Trump campaign successfully sued during the 2020 election after county auditors in Linn, Johnson, and Woodbury counties mailed request forms with some pre-filled information like name, address and driver’s license number.

Auditors wouldn’t be allowed to set up satellite early voting sites, unless petitioned to do so by at least 100 eligible voters. Many county auditors have regularly set up such sites at libraries and other community buildings.

County election officials could face criminal charges if they violate state guidance, fail to perform their duties or interfere with someone at a polling place. Those who violate state guidance would be charged with first-degree election misconduct, a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Failing to maintain a county’s voter list would become second-degree election misconduct, an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by up to 2 years in jail. Those who interfere with people at a polling place would be charged with third-degree election misconduct, a serious misdemeanor that could lead to a year in jail.

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