A high turnout does not mean there is no voter suppression

The Iowans turned out in better numbers than usual for the municipal and school board elections last week. It is always encouraging to see improvements in voter turnout.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, attributed the higher turnout to increased voter engagement in local issues.

“People are a lot more engaged and I don’t know if it’s just COVID or if it’s social media that puts more emphasis (on local elections), but people are definitely more and more in the weeds and want their voice heard on local issues and I think that’s great, ”Pate told Radio Iowa.

His point of view was well supported, especially in urban areas, by the increased attention and media attention on controversial campaign issues related to face mask rules in school and subject teaching. involving race.

The Iowa Republican Party, however, attributed a higher-than-usual turnout to restrictive new voting laws they passed in the legislature this year. The party wrote in a press release:

“Earlier this year, Republicans in Iowa passed an election integrity law that improved the state’s electoral systems. Instantly, the Iowa Democrats and their allies began their campaign of disinformation – that the Iowa election would now be harder to vote and that the votes would be suppressed. Once again, their political twist and fear propaganda never materialized. In reality, the Iowans were more confident in our election and went to the polls in large numbers to elect local leaders who will defend their freedoms, shattering turnout across the state. “

Republican lawmakers made a similar argument when voters turned out in record numbers for the 2020 general election after the GOP passed a series of voting restrictions. Among them was a reduction in the postal voting timeframe from 40 to 29 days.

Senator Roby Smith, R-Davenport, argued that the record turnout justified further reducing the absentee voting window to 18 days. “I sat in this chamber when I heard (that) going from 40 days to 29 days, an 11-day milestone, would result in fewer votes,” Smith said. “You know what? We’re getting a record turnout… as Republicans in the Senate pass laws in this house, election laws.”

As I wrote at the time, this record high turnout was mainly due to the level of inflammatory interest in the presidential race and several tight contests in Congress.

The deliberately flawed logic here should worry Iowa voters. If voter turnout was better than usual with just 18 days to vote by mail, wouldn’t limiting early voting to 11 days generate even higher turnout? Of course not.

Since voter fraud is not a factor in Iowa, the only reason to limit postal voting is to restrict a form of participation preferred by Democrats. There is no reason to believe that Republicans will not continue to reduce mail-in voting opportunities.

The turnout in last week’s election was significantly higher than in 2019, with just over 425,000 ballots cast compared to 358,000 two years ago. But that was still just 19% of Iowa’s 2.2 million registered voters. It is not something to celebrate. This is certainly not a reason to further reduce the Iowan’s voting opportunities.

Even if the turnout had been 50%, that would not prove that there was no voter suppression. The increased interest in an election from people who don’t normally vote in slack years doesn’t mean that more restrictive laws haven’t discouraged or blocked some people who wanted to vote but couldn’t. You can have an all-time high turnout and still deny the right to vote to people who needed more time to vote by post due to illness, mobility issues, lack of transportation or having to work after 8 p.m. polling day.

County auditors who oversee elections in Iowa’s two largest counties, Polk and Linn, told Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter Katie Akin they had to turn down a total of 423 people who had requested to receive a postal ballot paper within five days between the old deadline for poll requests and the new shorter deadline of 10 days before the election. Most of these voters likely received a ballot in some other way or voted in person. But probably not all.

Listeners said they only received a few mailed ballots that did not count after the 8 p.m. deadline on election day. But there were nine otherwise valid ballots in Polk and Linn counties alone that auditors said did not count due to the new deadlines.

The Marshall County County Auditor, a Republican, told Iowa Capital Dispatch his office was struggling with the shorter window for mailing mail ballots to voters. Another Republican auditor, in Sioux County, said the new law “not necessarily” improved the Iowa electoral process.

This is an understatement. False fears about fraud can never justify creating new voting barriers for hundreds of Iowans or even disqualifying an otherwise valid vote. It is the suppression of voters.

About William G.

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