Democrats sue Paul Pate for restricting counties from issuing prefilled absentee ballots

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Jake Tubbs

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate received official notice of resistance when the Iowa Democratic Party sued him for issuing an emergency directive stating county auditors could not issue prefilled voter absentee ballots and only issue blank ones on July 17.

Prefilled voter ballots are ballots sent to a voter with one’s information already filled in for them. This includes name, address, date of birth and driver’s licence or voter ID number. A blank ballot would require voters fill out this information themselves.

“Iowa Democrats will fight tooth and nail against every malicious effort by desperate Republican politicians to suppress our fundamental right to vote. We look forward to the court upholding the local authority of county auditors and rightfully validating the absentee ballot requests,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Mark Smith said in a statement.

As America is in the midst of a pandemic, this year’s election could rely heavily on mail-in voting.

“In order for you to MAKE SURE YOUR VOTE COUNTS & IS COUNTED, SIGN & MAIL IN your ballot as EARLY as possible,” President Donald Trump said in a tweet.

In the lawsuit, the Democrats state, “The auditors’ use of pre addressed absentee ballot request forms was entirely lawful under the Iowa Code and the Iowa Constitution,” the lawsuit continued. “The Secretary does not have statutory authority to prohibit county election officials from sending preaddressed absentee ballot request forms to active, registered voters, nor is he allowed to prohibit voters from using those forms if they so choose,” according to the lawsuit.

Pate contended in a statement made on Twitter that his directive was not intended to act as a ploy against Democrats but to expand the field of voters.

“They (The Democrats) apparently only want voters in Democrat-heavy counties to request ballots, using request forms pre-filled with voters’ personal information. Not only would this lawsuit prevent my office from mailing absentee ballot request forms statewide, it would also remove additional flexibility for Iowa’s military, overseas, and healthcare facility voters,” Pate stated.

While Pate said his action only added more potential voters to the field, some have speculated Pate’s new extra step may have given his party an advantage.

“Most studies of voting behavior conclude that Democratic-leaning voters (and students) are more likely to vote by mail, with Republican-leaning voters more likely to cast an in-person ballots on Election Day. Leaders of the Democratic Party argue that Pate’s action constitutes deliberate voter suppression,” Mack Shelley, the chairman of political science said.

Many who argue on the behalf of Pate and Republicans also point to potential voter fraud — a topic Trump has recently commented on.

“Because of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our nations history – unless this stupidity is ended. We voted during World War One & World War Two with no problem, but now they (the democrats) are using Covid in order to cheat by using Mail-Ins!” Trump said in a tweet.

Karen Kedrowski, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, said this idea of widespread voter fraud is far-fetched.

“There’s not significant evidence that there is voter fraud anywhere in the country,” Kedrowski said. “There are seven states that don’t even have in-person voting; they have been voting by mail — for example, in Washington and Oregon have done it for years and you know what? It works just fine.”

Kedrowski revealed how impactful Pate’s decision was as there are many opportunities for error when filling out a blank ballot.

“There could be things that don’t match like somebody is registered to vote under a legal name and they’re filling out the absentee voter request form using a nickname,” Kedrowski said. “When those kinds of things don’t match, they put a greater burden on the auditors at the local county level to contact that voter to straighten out the problem and to make sure they get the ballot on time.”

However this is not just an annoying extra measure a county auditor has to take, Kedrowski said there are much greater repercussions.

“It doesn’t seem to be burdensome to ask people to fill out a form but if you have an impairment, a low literacy rate, a physical impairment like your handwriting has deteriorated, one of these inadvertent errors increases the chances that someone could become disenfranchised.”