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Election changes pass Senate

DES MOINES — Myriad proposed changes to the state’s elections laws continue to advance at the Iowa Capitol, but state lawmakers are not in agreement on some key elements.

A package of elections law changes, including closing the polls for statewide elections an hour earlier, was approved Wednesday night by majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate.

But when the proposal heads across the Capitol rotunda to the Iowa House, majority Republicans there said they will have some different ideas.

The bill passed along party lines Wednesday night by the Senate would close the polls for statewide elections at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., allow auditors to use signature verification to confirm the authenticity of an absentee ballot, and prohibits the mailing out of sample ballots.

It also requires intelligent bar codes to verify that an absentee ballot was mailed ahead of the deadline, but sunsets that provision after four years, at which point all absentee ballots would be required to be received by local elections officials by Election Day.

“This [proposal] continues Iowa’s goal of providing fair, safe and secure elections in the 21st century. It brings uniformity, transparency, and checks and balances to our election process,” said Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, the Senate bill’s manager.

But Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said while House Republicans will be amenable to some elements of the Senate bill, they are strongly opposed to the absentee ballot deadline proposal.

The House earlier this year unanimously approved a proposal to require auditors to place intelligent barc odes on all absentee ballots. That way, auditors could scan the bar code on any ballots received after Election Day to ensure they were mailed before the deadline.

That proposal was drafted after the House was forced earlier this year to determine whether in a 2018 statehouse election that was decided by nine votes that 19 absentee ballots — which were received after Election Day but later found to be mailed on time — should have been counted. The House ruled the ballots should not be counted because of a lack of clarity in state law.

“We pretty passionately believe in our intelligent mail bar code language,” Kaufmann said. “They sunset and do drop-dead (deadline). That’s going to be a point of disagreement.”

Kaufmann said House Republicans will look through the Senate proposal and determine which elements have enough support to pass the chamber.

He said that list may not include the earlier poll closing time, either.

“We understand that [closing the polls at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.] is a logical thing to do. I’m not sure if it’s a politically possible thing to do, both politically and legally,” Kaufmann said. “We’re going to take a hard look at it.”

Earlier versions of the proposal, House File 692, also would have banned public universities as early voting locations and surveyed graduating college students as to whether they plan to remain in Iowa and removed from voter registration lists any who said they planned to leave the state. Those provisions were removed from the proposal during the legislative process.