The so-called "Voter Suppression Bill" being endorsed by Iowa Republicans is unpopular among many in Scott County.
About 100 people attended Saturday's legislative forum at Davenport Central High School, and the proposed bill that makes changes to Iowa's voting system was a frequent target of criticism.
The measure recently passed the Senate's State Government Committee, and local legislators who said they oppose it were applauded at Saturday's event.
Sponsored by State Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, the bill would block students at state universities from voting early. The ban on satellite voting also would extend to the Iowa Veterans Home. The bill seeks to close the polls an hour earlier (from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m.), bars auditors from verifying signatures off election records and would require early ballots to reach county auditors prior to election day, even when postmarks indicate the ballots were mailed on time.
The bill also would remove Iowa college students from voter registration lists if they indicate they plan to leave the state after graduation. And it would require auditors to verify signatures on absentee ballots by comparing them to previous signatures — a measure opponents say would disenfranchise many elderly voters whose signatures have changed.
Smith's defense of the bill met with jeers from several people in Saturday's crowd.
Some of the legislative panelists said the portion of Senate File 575 that would block early voting at state universities has been removed, but others said they haven't seen evidence of the amendment.
State Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said some voter access to the polls would be suppressed under Smith's bill, because it removes the opportunity for people who do not have proper identification at the polls to sign an affidavit, affirming their identity.
"Some valid state IDs aren't even on the list (of acceptable identification)," she said. "That is voter suppression as well."
Smith said people "aren't aware" of the "good in the bill."
Republican Sen. Mark Lofgren, of Muscatine, said the move to close the polls an hour earlier is meant to provide relief to the seniors who work the polls. Some in the audience shouted that many young people work the polls, too.
When Logren defended the part of the bill that asks college students whether they intend to stay in Iowa, saying, "It's good to keep track of students," two people shouted back, "That's illegal!"
Winckler said there is no companion bill in the House, saying her chamber resolved the matter of timely submittal of absentee and early ballots by asking county auditors to work with the U.S. Postal Service on "intelligent bar codes" that confirm the date of mailing.
"I would just hope the bill dies in the Senate," she said.
But Smith said he has proof that Iowans are concerned about voter fraud, because he's been campaigning on the issue for several terms, and voters keep re-electing him.
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"My constituents could've fired me, and they chose to rehire me," he said.
Rep. Monica Kurth, D-Davenport, then drew another round of applause when she said people's signatures change, calling the bill "unfair" and "a hit to our elderly voters."
"It's a bad bill," she said. "It's definitely voter suppression."
Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, said Iowa's voting system is simple, and it should stay that way. She said the proposed changes are being made, "to fit an agenda."
Sen. Jim Lykam said he also has won re-election and has done so, "hearing no outcry that the (voting) system is broken."
Judges and solar energy
Also on the minds of those attending Saturday's forum is the Republican proposal to change the process for selecting judges in the state.
Currently, the governor chooses half the judicial candidates and members of the state bar association pick the other half, based on a list provided by a lay commission. The new bill would change the non-partisan process by removing the role of attorneys in the state and giving the legislature the authority to pick half the judges.
"There are three branches of government for a reason ... not one with extraordinary power," Kurth said in opposition to the bill. "I think we need to protect our judiciary."
No one spoke directly in favor of changing to a partisan process, though Lofgren remarked, "I think it brings the citizens into the loop."
Also drawing debate was a question about the so-called "sunshine tax," which is a measure on the move in the Senate to tax residents, farmers and businesses that generate solar power.
Supporters say those generating solar power are using the energy grid for free, but opponents say the producers are adding cheap energy to the grid, rather than taking from it.
"I supported the bill because ... for fairness," Lofgren said.
Smith said he also supports the tax, because solar users should help pay for infrastructure related to the grid.
In response, several people in the audience shouted that solar users are not on the grid.
Audience members also responded when Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt declared the tax, "a fairness issue."
Replied one attendee: "You don't understand how it works, then."