DES MOINES — More Iowans would be able to register to vote online under a bill that passed the Iowa Senate on Thursday. But the measure’s chief sponsor said the issue likely would get wrapped up in negotiations aimed by making significant changes to state election laws yet this session.
Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said the state has gone four years without revamping its election laws and problems have surfaced related to the postmarking of absentee ballots. County auditors and the Iowa Secretary of State’s office would like to see those issues resolved to avoid ballot disputes in the future.
“I think there’s a path to agreement,” said Danielson, but it could require the House and Senate to pass different bills that could keep the issue alive so a conference committee could come together later in the session to deal with several changes that might get bipartisan support.
To that end, a Senate subcommittee agreed to forward a House bill to the State Government Committee as a vehicle that likely will attract amendments related to election law changes. House File 506 would set an Election Day cutoff for absentee ballots to be received and counted with an exception for late-arriving ballots from military personnel stationed outside of Iowa.
Danielson said he does not support the House approach but is keeping the bill alive as a vehicle for future action. He expects Senate File 331, the electronic voter registration measure the Senate passed 26-20 on a party-line vote Thursday would become part of that larger election reform package.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is working on a system with the state Department of Transportation that will offer the electronic registration option to anyone with a valid Iowa driver's license or a state-issued identification card.
Danielson said the Senate bill would expand the online registration option to eligible voters who do not have access to a computer or face other challenges. He estimated that amounts to 7 percent to 9 percent of eligible Iowa voters.
Danielson said Iowa previously passed ground-breaking election reforms and partnered with county auditors to establish a voter-verified paper trail to help Iowa avoid “a Florida moment” similar to the 2000 presidential ballot-counting fiasco.