Friday, September 12, 2014

Pate's Partisan Postal Plan

Way back when in Paul Pate's term as secretary of state, election administration wasn't the highly partisan battleground it's become in the post hanging chad era.

Pate has changed with the times, as his recent editorial showed, and he gladly toes the Republican Party line that massive voter impersonation is an actual problem and only voter ID can solve it.

But beyond this solution in search of a problem, Pate is offering a "solution" that causes more problems than it solves.

"I believe no one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker," Pate writes in a soundbite that's not as simple as it seems.

The idea is to end the practice of "chasing," where campaign volunteers and staffers pick up ballots from voters and deliver them to auditor's offices. It's a practice that helps Democrats. The demographic reality is, Democrats have to work much harder to get their marginal voters to follow through. Pickup and delivery helps, so Dems do it.

"I propose to eliminate absentee ballot couriers from the election process," Pate adds. That term "courier" is an interesting one, and one that points to the problem with the Pate plan.

Under current law, anyone except a candidate can pick up and return your ballot. But for two cycles, 2004 and 2006, Iowa had a cumbersome "ballot courier" law that limited who could chase ballots. There were mandatory yet pointless training sessions (summary: duh, you have to bring the ballots back), a tedious check in process, and cumbersome paperwork.

Democratic campaigns were willing to do the extra work. But the biggest burden wasn't on campaigns. It was on the general public.

"No one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker." What about your spouse? Or your parent? Or your adult child? Or your care provider? Countless times in 2004 and 2006, I had to tell spouses they could not return their partner's ballot, and go through the absurd step of instead directing them to the mail box outside.

The mail is the other problem here. County auditors across Iowa have been battling the Postal Service the last few years about postmarks.

Iowa law says that to count a mailed ballot, it has to be 1) postmarked by the day before the election or 2) delivered in person before the polls close. But due to budget cuts, very little local mail is postmarked anymore. When auditors raise the issue with postmasters, they're basically told Too Bad So Sad.

So if you put your ballot in the mail box on Monday, there's a good chance it won't count. By eliminating ballot chasers, Pate would eliminate one more way by which an absentee voter could get their ballot in on time and counted, and make it harder, not easier, to vote.

That's a false priority, compared to Brad Anderson's goal of making  Iowa the highest turnout state in the country. Something to remember before you send that ballot back.

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