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An Iowa local judge has issued a temporary injunction blocking some changes to the state’s early and absentee voting laws, and is limiting how the state can roll out its new voter ID requirement. The Des Moines Register has more:
An Iowa judge this week blocked some provisions of a 2017 voter identification law and required the state to restore its early voting period to 40 days, from 29, for November’s midterm elections.
Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano granted the temporary injunction in an order made public Wednesday. She found that the law, and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s efforts to promote it, “substantially and directly interfere with Iowans’ constitutional rights to vote.”
She also found the state had “suggested no real threat to the integrity of Iowa’s voting system” if the law’s requirements were blocked.
“The harm to the registered voters who may become disenfranchised or experience substantial obstacles in voting is greater than any harm to the state,” she wrote in her order.
Secretary of State Paul Pate said the state will appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court “immediately.” [The text of the order is here.]
In particular, plaintiffs sought to restore 40 days of early voting and stop changes to the law that would have required more of voters seeking to vote absentee, rejecting the state’s arguments that absentee voting was sufficiently different that different procedures were constitutionally permissible:
The request to block portions of the ID law before November’s midterm elections came as part of a lawsuit brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens and Taylor Blair, an Iowa State University student.
LULAC and Blair argued that parts of the legislation violate the sections of the Iowa Constitution that protect the right to vote, due process, equal protection and freedom of speech. But Wednesday’s injunction will only affect three of the law’s provisions.
Romano’s order temporarily blocks portions of the law that shorten the state’s early voting period from 40 days to 29 days, require an identification number to apply for an absentee ballot and allow election officials to reject absentee applications and ballots when they determine signatures on those forms don’t match voters’ signatures on record.
State lawyers argued earlier this month that there is a distinction between the right to vote and the right to vote absentee. They said Iowa should be allowed to experiment with different forms of early voting.
Romano said she did not find that argument persuasive.
“The Legislature is not entitled to a limitless ability to regulate fundamental rights,” Romano wrote.
She agreed with the plaintiffs, who argued courts should use strict scrutiny — the most rigorous standard of judicial review — when examining restrictions on “fundamental” rights like voting. That’s a higher standard than the one used at the federal level.
The state pointed to high turnout in this year’s June 5 primary as evidence that the law does not suppress voter participation. The primary was the first statewide election where the shorter 29-day early voting period was in effect and its turnout of 279,124 was the third-highest in the state’s history.
But Romano said the voter pool is different in a primary compared to a general election, in part because primary voters must already be registered with a political party.
Pate said the law had not caused any problems.
“My office has worked diligently with organizations across the state, including the plaintiffs in this case, to inform all Iowans about the provisions of this new law. The plaintiffs have not shown a single Iowan has been disenfranchised by this bill,” Pate said Wednesday.
The injunction only blocks the contested provisions until the entire lawsuit has been decided. But in issuing the injunction, Romano found that LULAC and Blair are likely to succeed on the merits of their case and that some voters impacted by the provisions would lose their right to vote and would suffer irreparable harm.
The judge also halted Iowa’s plans to prepare voters for an upcoming voter ID requirements using forms and ads alerting voters to the change:
Romano also blocked Pate from using language to advertise law that states or implies that an ID is required to vote this year.
As part of a gradual rollout of the new law, voters without IDs in 2018 are being allowed to sign an “Oath of Identification” attesting that they are who they say they are. The oath option will remain available in the November election…
The state argued that the purpose of the rollout phase of the law is to prepare voters to bring an ID when they vote, which will be required in 2019. But Romano said Pate’s advertising with three check boxes saying “register,” “ID,” and “vote” would lead voters to believe they had to have identification this year.
“Leading voters to believe they will be unable to cast a ballot without displaying one of the permitted identification cards, contrary to the laws of the state, does not serve a compelling state interest,” she wrote.
This case and yesterday’s Florida campus early voting opinion signal that we are now close enough to the general election that litigation to change (or prevent changes) to state and local election laws is in play to affect the rules regarding November’s vote. Given the SoS’ promised appeal, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more opinions – and with them more changes – in Iowa’s election laws and procedures between now and Election Day. Stay tuned …