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National Latino civil rights group files lawsuit over new Iowa voting law

The Republican measure, LULAC said in the lawsuit, imposes undue and unjustified burdens on minority, elderly and disabled voters.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference on Sept. 29, 2020, in Johnston.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference on Sept. 29, 2020, in Johnston.Charlie Neibergall / AP

DES MOINES, Iowa — An organization representing Iowa’s Latino population filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging new restrictions on voting in the state, a day after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, represented by Washington-based voting rights lawyer Marc Elias, filed the lawsuit in state court in Des Moines.

The measure, which passed with only Republican votes in the Iowa Legislature, includes numerous changes to the state’s voting laws that Democrats and advocacy groups said will make it harder for minority, elderly and disabled voters to cast ballots.

Among the changes, the law shortens time for voters to cast mail ballots, reduces days voters can request a ballot and shortens the time polls are open on Election Day.

The lawsuit claims the new law, which Reynolds signed on Monday, creates an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote, citing numerous violations of voters’ constitutional rights.

The lawsuit claims none of the provisions of the new law will make elections more secure or increase public confidence in the electoral process. It said the law instead imposes undue and unjustified burdens on minority, elderly and disabled voters and those with chronic health conditions, who work multiple jobs, and who lack access to reliable transportation or consistent mail service. It claims the bill will suppress votes among those people.

"An exercise in voter suppression"

“This is because the bill is an exercise in voter suppression, one disguised as a solution for a problem that exists only in the fertile imaginations of its creators,” the lawsuit states.

LULAC spokesman Joe Henry said the group believes some of the new law’s provisions are targeted at young Hispanic voters who prefer to vote early due to work and transportation limitations. Henry said the law is the result of Republicans realizing that the Latino community is a growing voter population in the state which presents a potential threat to them winning elections.

“Clearly, they’re trying to knock out as many people as possible thinking that they’re going to be able to win future elections. We feel that they’re wrong and of course we also feel that it’s unconstitutional,” Henry said.

Republicans in the House and Senate quickly approved the changes over the opposition of all Democratic legislators. Republicans said the rules are needed to guard against voting fraud, though they noted Iowa has no history of election irregularities and that November’s election saw record turnout with no hint of problems in the state.

Reynolds said election integrity must be protected, claiming the law provides election officials with consistent parameters for Election Day, absentee voting and database maintenance.

Spokesmen for Reynolds did not immediately respond to a message.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said in statements that they are confident the recently passed law will survive legal challenges.

“No amount of politically-motivated lawsuits backed by Washington liberal elites will stop Iowa House Republicans from working to ensure the integrity of our election system,” Grassley said.

“I am confident the new law will once again prevail in the courts, affirming our efforts to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat,” Whitver said.

A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller declined to comment. Miller is named as a defendant with Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

Pate said in a statement that the job of election officials is to follow the laws passed by the legislature.

“My office will continue providing resources to help every eligible Iowan be a voter and understand any changes in election law. Our goal has always been to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat,” he said.

Reynolds justified signing the bill with a statement saying: “All of these additional steps promote more transparency and accountability, giving Iowans even greater confidence to cast their ballot.”

Although there is no evidence of systematic fraud, lawmakers in 43 states are debating about 200 bills that would limit ballot access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy group. Iowa was one of the first states to enact new laws.

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