DES MOINES — After contentious floor fights over a bill Democrats charged was intended to suppress voting and Republicans framed as protecting election integrity, an Iowa House committee chairman believes he can get bipartisan support for a measure that might modify some of those changes.
“I acknowledged on the floor of the House during the election bill about a month ago that there are going to need to be some clarifications and some changes,” House State Government Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said Tuesday during discussion of Senate File 568. “I found this bill to be the vehicle for those changes. My goal is to make this a bipartisan bill to take everyone’s opinions into account.”
Kaufmann told a subcommittee he’s open to addressing some of the issues Democrats raised when Republican majorities passed the elections bill — SF 413 — by 30-18 and 57-37 in the Senate and House, respectively.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed SF 413 into law. Among other changes in the state elections law, the measure reduces the number of days for early voting, restricted absentee voting and threatens county auditors with fines and jail time if they break the requirements.
Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, who tangled repeatedly with Kaufmann during floor debate on SF 413, Tuesday reiterated his “grave concern” with portions of that bill.
Among other provisions, Democrats objected to a ban on anyone other than a voter, immediate family member or caretaker returning completed absentee ballots, and a requirement that absentee ballots be received in a county auditor’s office no later than Election Day even if postmarked earlier.
He thinks the caretaker issue can be resolved with “something as simple as some kind of a receipt,” but warned that before there is bipartisan agreement, the deadline for absentee ballots to be returned must be addressed.
“It is my firm belief that if somebody sends in an absentee ballot on time, fills it out correctly, has all the I’s dotted T’s crossed ... it should be counted,” Hunter said. “Those are my two big issues that have to be resolved before we can call this bipartisan.”
Kaufmann agreed that the issue of caretakers — someone other than the voter returning an absentee ballot — can be addressed as well as giving auditors authority to reject requests for satellite voting if they are duplicative, too costly or not widely accessible.
Hunter said it makes him nervous to pass something out of committee with a promise to fix it later in floor debate.
Kaufmann insisted SF 568 — which would address the election changes — won’t pass “as is.”
“My goal, in the end, is for this bill to pass the Iowa House with a wide bipartisan margin — hopefully a unanimous margin — and that version to be agreed to by the Senate and sent down to the governor’s desk.” Kaufmann said.
“I will do whatever I can to work with Rep. Kaufmann to make sure we have one of those bipartisan bills,” Hunter said. But he urged Democrats to vote against the bill until that bipartisan agreement was reached.
The committee approved the bill on a party-line vote.
SF 568 is what’s known as a technical bill that makes fixes in several parts of state election law. During the subcommittee hearing, representatives heard from the Iowa Hospital Association, which supported the bill because it included changes affecting the election of trustees, and from community colleges, which warned the bill would add “undue, unneeded expense to already pricey” referendums. Kaufmann added that to his list of “negotiables.”