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Iowa judge blocks order barring sending of absentee ballot applications with personal information filled in
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Iowa judge blocks order barring sending of absentee ballot applications with personal information filled in

Iowa Judge Robert Hanson blocked a directive on Monday by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate that told counties they could not send absentee ballot request forms with any information already filled out for voters.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Iowa Democratic Party joined together to challenge this “Emergency Election Directive” that Pate released on July 17, 2020. The plaintiffs argued that Pate did not have sufficient authority to issue such a directive. The relevant portion of the directive stated that, “[t]o ensure uniformity and to provide voters with consistent guidance on the absentee ballot application process, County Auditors shall distribute only the blank Official State of Iowa Absentee Ballot Request Form.”

The plaintiffs argued that Pate is required to offer some kind of absentee ballot application, but that he is not permitted to prescribe the only form of application. They stated that:

Iowa law is clear that no specific form is required to make a written application for an absentee ballot: “[I]f a registered voter submits an application on a sheet of paper no smaller than three by five inches in size that includes all of the information required in this section, the prescribed form is not required.” Iowa Code § 53.2(2)(a).

The directive blocks the move by Iowa county auditors to distribute preaddressed absentee ballot request forms to all of the active voters in their counties largely because “voters often make mistakes in filling out the forms,” and the resulting volume of communication with voters would be unsustainable.

Hanson weighed whether this directive is likely to prevail by the end of the case, whether applicants will be subject to irreparable harm without relief, and how much the public interest relies upon the agency. Hanson stated that the directive would cause substantial burdens on the plaintiffs by forcing them to redirect their funds to educating voters and attempting to mitigate the disproportionate impact of the directive on young and minority voters.

Largely for the sake of the plaintiffs and the public, the court thus granted the plaintiffs their motion to stay the enforcement of the directive while this case is ongoing. The judgment also required Pate to inform the Iowa county auditors as soon as possible and no later than one business day after the entry of this stay.