BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said if the governor passes a new election law, it could cost taxpayers an estimated additional $12,000 per general election.
The bill, Senate File 413, is an election bill proposing to cut early voting from 29 days to 18 days which will increase the workload of Fraise’s election staff. The bill also provides for criminal penalties against county auditors who are proven to have violated the new laws.
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said the new election is a reaction to three county auditors who sent out absentee ballots with prefilled personal information.
Some Democrats are calling the bill the “voter suppression law’.
“It’s a punishment for the three auditors in Linn, Johnson, and Woodbury counties that sent out prefilled ballots. They got sued, went to court, but nothing happened to them.”
At last week’s Legislative Luncheon sponsored by the Keokuk and Fort Madison Chambers of Commerce, State Sen. Jeff Reichman (R-Montrose) and State Rep. Joe Mitchell (R-Wayland) said there has to be teeth to violations of law.
“If I speed or don’t stop at a stop sign I get a ticket. That’s one aspect of it,” Reichman said.
But he said it’s also important that people have a sense of urgency in casting ballots.
“Turnaround time needs to be expedited,” Reichman said. “But there are still a lot of people, not in Iowa, but across the nation who had doubts with the votes. This is just one more thing to secure the vote and make sure it’s being conducted properly.”
Mitchell agreed saying the new law would provide actionable penalties for auditors violating the law.
“Three county auditors broke the law and there was no teeth in it,” Mitchell said.
“But that’s not how we do things here. Our county auditors have done a great job.”
He said other statistics get glossed over in the debate. Mitchell said the average time across the nation for early voting is 17 days so this puts Iowa on par with other states.
He said the state has had election bills proposed every year and people call it voter suppression, yet voter turnout continues to climb every year.
This year Secretary of State Paul Pate had counties send an absentee ballot to every Iowan as the pandemic kept elderly and disabled at home due to the dangers of the coronavirus.
Fraise said she usually adds one temporary staffer during election cycles and then runs into overtime, especially with the mandated recount this year.
“We spent $12,376.26 and will probably will have to double that for a General Election,” she said.
“It’s gonna put a burden on the taxpayers. We will have to hire staff. We sent out 10,000 ballots last time. Can we do that in 20 days? – I doubt it. And then you look at larger counties with more than 50,000 early votes. They’re gonna have to put on staff, too.”
Fraise said the only good thing in the new bill is closing polls at 8 p.m., which is an hour sooner than current law for general elections.
“We’ll continue to follow the law here. I don’t want to go to jail or face a $10,000 fine, we’ll just have to make the adjustments.”
One of those adjustments is whether or not Lee County, the only county in the state with two county seats and courthouses, will get one or two ballot drop boxes.
“Right now the bill says only one. So who gets it? I asked Sen. Reichman to look into our unique situation, but I don’t think anything got in the bill.”
Fraise said at this point, she’s only skimmed the bill, but said she was surprised it was 32 pages.
State Rep. Martin Graber (R-Ft. Madison) said Iowans should feel good about the election process and what happened in Iowa. Yet Graber and Mitchell both said they will be supporting the bill in the House. Reichman voted for the bill in the Senate.
“We know how to do it right,” Graber said Friday. “But we don’t want to be like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or other states that take weeks and weeks to find out who won – and then have it challenged down the road.”