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Iowa Supreme Court denies appeal from Woodbury County over mail ballot applications

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SIOUX CITY -- The Iowa Supreme Court on Wednesday denied an appeal by the Woodbury County Auditor's Office, affirming a district court ruling that previously received mail ballot requests for the November election were invalidated, so people who wanted such ballots will have to begin the process over.

Auditior Pat Gill in a Thursday release said he would comply with the court decision, which in essence affirmed the ruling in late August by District Court Judge Patrick H. Tott granting a temporary injunction against the auditor's office and invalidating thousands of absentee ballot requests.

Pat Gill


Tott ruled Gill's office will have to send letters to registered Woodbury County voters informing them the absentee ballot request forms sent by his office are invalid, and that they will have to fill in another, blank absentee ballot request if they wish to vote by mail. Of the 57,000 ballot request forms that were sent out, more than 15,000 had returned to date, Gill said Thursday in updating the number. 

The legal battle began in August when President Donald Trump's re-election campaign, along with the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Iowa, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, took Gill's office to court over the absentee ballot request forms that were sent to registered voters. 

At issue was the fact that the absentee ballot request forms had been sent with key voter information -- such as names, dates of birth and voter pin numbers, which few voters have memorized -- filled in. The voter had only to verify that the information was correct, sign the request for a ballot and mail it back to Gill's office. 

The Trump campaign, which filed identical lawsuits in Linn County and Johnson County, argued that the county auditors had violated a directive from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, who told local officials last month that the forms must be mailed blank to voters in order to ensure uniformity across Iowa's 99 counties. 

Judge Tott ruled that Gill's office must obey Pate's directives and orders. 

"While there are certainly very good reasons for why people will want to vote by absentee ballot in light of the ongoing COVID situation in addition to all the traditional reasons why persons want to vote absentee, if certain voters do not understand or request a new absentee ballot, their ability to vote has not been prevented. They still have the opportunity to vote in person on election-day or anytime during the early voting period," Tott wrote in his ruling.

In upcoming days, Gill said Thursday, voters who submitted the now invalidated forms will receive a notification with a blank absentee form, along with a postage-paid envelope, encouraging the voter to resubmit the absentee request form, so a ballot can be sent.

That mailing will go out on Oct. 5, which is also the first day for early in-person voting, which will be available starting that day at the Long Lines Family Rec Center in downtown Sioux City. Gill said he is working with the city of Sioux City and Sioux City School District to finalize polling places for all 44 county precincts.

Gill said no county money was used to fund the appeal. He said the costs were paid by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, a group that was an intervening appellant in the case.

In early September, Gill expressed concern that his office budget may be strained by dealing with improperly filled-out absentee ballot requests. He estimated the process could cost his office more than $30,000, more than half of all the money he had budgeted for election staffing.

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Related to this story

A legislative body gave Secretary of State Paul Pate approval to enact rules for speeding up the time-consuming process of opening mailed envelopes and separating the sealed ballots inside for processing on Nov. 2 — the day before Election Day.

The Iowa Supreme Court on Tuesday quickly granted a stay on a ruling from a previous day, leaving officials and voters confused about a blizzard of decisions about the validity of absentee ballot applications with pre-filled information.

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