Iowa Governor Signs Bill to Limit Absentee and Early Voting, Close Polls Earlier

March 9, 2021 Updated: March 9, 2021

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday signed a bill to limit absentee voting, shorten early voting, and close the polls earlier on Election Day.

The Republican-backed law, SF 413, will shorten the state’s early voting period from 29 to 20 days. It also requires most mail ballots to be received by Election Day. Previously, they could arrive by noon on the Monday after the election, if they were postmarked. Voting sites must close at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than before under the law.

County auditors or other election officials are banned from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot request forms under the new law. They would also face penalties of up to $10,000 if they do not enforce state election laws or disobey the guidelines from the secretary of state.

Under the law, county auditors are not permitted to set up satellite voting sites unless enough residents petition for one. Voters will be removed from active voting lists if they miss an election and don’t report a change in address or register as a voter again.

The new law in Iowa also limits who can return a voter’s absentee ballot. Previously, anyone could do so on the voter’s behalf if they were asked to do so by the voter. Now, only the voter, their immediate family or household member, or caregiver, are permitted to return the ballot, whether in person or by mail.

“It’s our duty and responsibility to protect the integrity of every election,” Reynolds said of the bill in a statement. “This legislation strengthens uniformity by providing Iowa’s election officials with consistent parameters for Election Day, absentee voting, database maintenance, as well as a clear appeals process for local county auditors.”

She added, “All of these additional steps promote more transparency and accountability, giving Iowans even greater confidence to cast their ballot.”

Kim Reynolds
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses the virtual Republican National Convention on Aug. 25, 2020. (Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)

The law passed both chambers of the state’s legislature in February on party lines with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn in a statement said: “We don’t have to wait to get people registered to vote. We don’t have to wait to have Democrats talking with their neighbors in rural and metropolitan areas in the state about how these harmful pieces of legislation are being forced through.”

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy group, lawmakers in 43 states are debating over 200 bills concerning ballot access. This comes after the presidential election in November 2020 which saw widespread allegations of voting irregularities and election fraud.

Heritage Action for America, a policy advocacy group, praised the passing of the new Iowa law.

“By enacting this critical election integrity bill, Gov. Reynolds and the Iowa legislature have made Iowa one of the states leading the charge to secure our nation’s election,” Executive Director Jessica Anderson said in a statement. “After a year of unprecedented challenges to the integrity of our states’ electoral systems, elected officials in Iowa, Florida, Georgia, and other states are taking urgent and necessary steps to restore confidence in elections and secure the voting process.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in February proposed a bill to enact a number of restrictions on mail-in voting, including banning unsolicited mail-in ballots, and requiring that mail-in ballot requests must be made each election year.

Iowa’s law comes as the Georgia state Senate voted on Monday to pass an election reform bill that repeals no-excuse absentee voting and limits the eligibility of who can cast a mail-in ballot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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