This editorial originally appeared in the Des Moines Register.
Iowa’s Republican state lawmakers have apparently won so big they’re tired of winning.
Why else would they insist on tinkering with Iowa’s election system?
It is the system that recently delivered the GOP stronger majorities in the Iowa Legislature, five out of six seats in the U.S. Congress and six Electoral College votes, in consecutive elections, for former President Donald Trump.
Yet the legislative victors insist — again this session — that voting reforms are needed.
So lawmakers quickly pushed through legislation that would shorten Iowa’s early voting period from 29 to 20 days (down from 40 days in 2016), reduce Election Day voting by an hour and create a stricter deadline for returning absentee ballots.
Signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds last week, the measure also prevents county auditors from setting up satellite voting sites unless petitioned to do so. It prohibits them from automatically mailing absentee ballot request forms to voters.
The goal of GOP lawmakers is obvious: Make it more difficult for Iowans to cast ballots.
That was the goal in 2017 when they rammed through an unnecessary voter ID law to supposedly respond to nonexistent fraud. It has been the goal ever since — when legislators pushed to ban satellite voting on college campuses and stood pat on keeping people once convicted of felonies disenfranchised.
But their latest voter suppression efforts seem to be driven by an orchestrated national effort by the GOP to enact new legislation to erect state-level barriers to voting. Hundreds of bills aimed at election procedures and voting access have been introduced in statehouses across the country this year.
Here in Iowa, what Republicans are doing just may backfire on them (if their work holds up; an advocacy group has already sued).
During a recent legislative hearing, speakers focused on a provision that would ban all but family members, household members or caregivers from returning someone’s ballot for them. Adams County Auditor Becky Bissell, a Republican, told of an elderly voter in her county who relies on church members to help her through the voting process and return her ballot.
“Smaller rural counties have a large elderly population who typically choose to vote absentee because of weather or health concerns. Why are we making it harder for them to vote?” she asked.
Good question. And it’s particularly odd considering rural voters tend to favor Republicans.
Who can put a stop to such state-level voter suppression shenanigans?
The U.S. Congress.
The U.S. House recently passed H.R. 1, also referred to as the For the People Act.
The bill should be pared down and modified to remove campaign finance changes. Yet much of what it contains are common-sense, critical measures to guarantee free and fair elections going forward.
The legislation requires states to offer mail-in ballots, same-day voter registration and early voting. It includes mandatory automatic voter registration and restoration of voting rights to people who complete felony sentences. It would make it more difficult for states to eliminate inactive voters from the rolls.
Top-down directives like this should be infrequent. If it was suspect for Iowa state government to usurp school districts’ choices in the past year, then H.R. 1′s meddling with states’ election rules is also suspect on its face. But Congress rightly steps in when civil rights are at stake, as it did with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and it’s time to do it again.
Further, none of those measures should even be controversial.
When the U.S. House passed H.R. 1 in 2019, the bill did not move forward in the Senate, which was then controlled by Republicans.
Now Democrats control the Senate and may consider ending the filibuster so such a bill can be approved with a Senate majority.
They should not have to do that.
Republicans, including U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, should support this legislation.