Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Changes in Law Make Ballot Challenges Harder

Changes in Law Make Ballot Challenges Harder

Changes in state law which kicked in on July 1 will make it harder to challenge the qualifications of voters, a change which may affect the efforts of Iowa Republicans to, as they've put it, "insure ballot integrity."

Ballot challenge programs are a relatively new feature to Iowa politics. The number of challenged and provisional ballots have risen dramatically since 2000, as the Democratic Party has ramped up its absentee voter program to the point where some counties are now seeing nearly half their ballots voted before Election Day.

As one of the closest states in the nation at the presidential level, and one of only three states to switch sides between 2000 and 2004, efforts on the margins can make the difference. In heavily Democratic Johnson County, where Republicans spearheaded a big challenge drive in the last presidential election, the number of provisional ballots counted skyrocketed from 71 in 2000 to 1,358 in 2004.

The 2004 provisionals were more Democratic than any precinct in Johnson County -- a whopping 77 percent for John Kerry and only 22 percent for Bush. More importantly, another 600 or so challenges were upheld. Those ballots were never counted, but likely had a similar margin.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the ballot challenges cost Kerry a net 300 to 350 votes. That's significant, considering that Al Gore's statewide 2000 margin was about 4,000 votes, and George Bush won Iowa by about 10,000 in 2004.

In the changes approved by the Democratic-controlled trifecta of House, Senate, and Governor Culver, false challenges are now an aggravated misdemeanor.

Only a registered voter in the county can make a challenge, and the challenger must provide their name, signature, address and phone number. Any challenge lacking that information will be rejected.

Some challenges are ruled out entirely. Blanket challenges to whole categories of voters are not allowed, and instead each challenge must be made to an individual voter. And the new election day registration law is covered; a person reporting a change of address at the polls or who is registering on Election Day cannot be challenged on the basis of not being a resident at the address where they are registered to vote.

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