Iowa election officials were told Friday by the state Supreme Court they cannot implement several absentee voting requirements in a new voter ID law until a challenge to the law can be heard at a trial.
A court order signed by Chief Justice Mark Cady upheld a judge’s temporary injunction halting enforcement of several sections of the 2017 law pertaining to absentee ballots. The order said the state cannot throw out an absentee ballot based on a judgment by local election officials that the voter’s signature doesn’t match one on file.
It also said Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate cannot require absentee ballots to include a voter verification number and he must make it clear in materials sent to voters that an ID isn’t required to vote until next year.
In elections this year, voters without IDs have been allowed to sign an “Oath of Identification” attesting that they are who they say they are. The oath option will remain available for the November election, which features competitive races for governor and at least two Republican-held U.S. House seats.
Next year, however, when there will be local races, the option of signing an oath will go away and voters must have acceptable identification or they will have to cast a provisional ballot, then return to show ID within a few days for their ballot to count.
Friday’s court order does allow the state to narrow the timeframe for casting absentee ballots to 29 days from 40 days, a change that will be effective for the general election in November.
The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and Iowa State University student Taylor Blair sued the state in May, arguing that changes in the voter ID law would disenfranchise voters, especially Latinos who vote absentee in large numbers.
They asked the court to issue an injunction halting enforcement of the absentee ballot provisions and a judge did so in July. The state appealed.
“This a major victory for voting rights and a powerful affirmation of the principle that voting should be easy and accessible for all,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of the Priorities USA Foundation, a voting rights advocacy organization that is helping to fund the lawsuit.
Cecil said the court’s decision means voters in the fall elections “will no longer be forced to produce an obscure voter ID number in order to cast an absentee ballot, nor will they be in danger of having their ballot thrown out due to inaccurate signature matching.”
Pate said in a statement that he is disappointed the court set aside only part of the injunction but he looks forward to a full hearing in court.
“Voters benefit from having clarity in how the election laws will be applied for the November general election,” he said.
The issue is a key topic for Pate’s re-election race this year. His opponent, Democrat Deidre DeJear, has been a critic of the law passed by a Republican-led legislature with Pate’s support.