Political News

Iowa Supreme Court puts ruling on absentee forms on hold

Posted October 6, 2020 4:33 p.m. EDT

— The Iowa Supreme Court on Tuesday swiftly granted a request from Republican groups to stay a judge’s ruling that blocked enforcement of an order that has been used to invalidate tens of thousands of absentee ballot requests.

The Republican National Committee, President Trump’s campaign and other GOP groups argued in an emergency petition filed Tuesday that Iowa’s election administration could be thrown into “chaos” if the ruling was allowed to stand.

Within hours, Chief Justice Susan Christensen released an order saying the full court had granted their request to put the ruling on hold pending further proceedings. She said the court will consider the merits of the case in the coming days.

At issue is Monday’s ruling by Judge Robert Hanson that would block Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate from enforcing his directive that required counties to mail blank absentee ballot applications to voters instead of ones pre-filled with their personal information.

Pate, a Republican, said his directive was intended to ensure uniformity in how the applications were mailed statewide. But Hanson found that it would harm the public’s interest in making voting by mail as easy as possible during the coronavirus pandemic, saying it appeared to be designed to limit the option.

Based on the directive, courts have invalidated absentee ballot applications that were mailed to more than 200,000 voters in three counties and that contained their identification information.

Court injunctions issued at the request of GOP groups are blocking those counties from processing tens of thousands of applications that were returned. Counties began sending absentee ballots to valid requesters on Monday.

Hanson’s ruling did not dissolve the injunctions, but he suggested that counties could ask the courts to lift them. Doing so could allow the counties to mail absentee ballots to thousands of voters whose pre-filled applications were invalidated, including about 14,000 in Linn County.

Those voters can also fill out new blank applications to request absentee ballots by mail or vote early in person or on Election Day.

The GOP’s petition for review asked the court to immediately stay Hanson’s ruling, calling it an improper “collateral attack” on the injunctions that created more confusion.

Separately, the high court is expected to decide soon whether to review the constitutionality of a new Republican-backed law that blocks county elections commissioners from filling in any missing information on absentee ballot applications.

The law requires them to instead contact voters to fill in the information themselves in order to complete the applications. Democrats and county officials say potentially thousands of requesters with incomplete paperwork could be left without absentee ballots under the law.

A judge refused to block the law last week, finding that requests for absentee ballots do not implicate the fundamental right to vote.

Iowa is one of many states where Republican leaders have put limits on absentee voting while Democrats have tried to expand it.

Pate has told counties that they cannot place boxes for voters to drop off completed absentee ballots in places like grocery stores, saying the boxes can only be located on county property. A hearing in a Democratic lawsuit challenging his order is scheduled for Friday.

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AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/

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