Rep. Fisher: District 72 Newsletter
In my last newsletter I reported on the use of the “Black Lives Matter” curriculum in the Ames Community School District (ACSD) and that the Government Oversight Committee would be holding a public hearing on the issue. This hearing was a result of parents in Ames contacting the Republican committee members repeatedly with their concerns about this curriculum. On Monday, the attorney for ACSD sent an email to the committee chair, Rep. Holly Brink, canceling the meeting between ACSD officials and the committee, less than 24 hours before the hearing was to be held.
Some of that curriculum included lessons on the disruption of the Western prescribed nuclear family, and lessons on students selecting their own “gender identity”. Many parents rightly object to their children being taught how to disrupt their own families and think it is not the school’s role to teach their children to select their own gender identity. Additionally, other values held by the Black Lives Matter organization are to defund local police departments and overturn Voter ID laws. Parents expressed alarm about why a public school is so directly engaged in pushing left-wing political messages using taxpayer funds to do so. Why the Ames Community School District felt it was necessary to use their attorney to contact Rep. Brink to back out of a committee meeting is unclear. It is also unclear why the district needs an attorney to defend a curriculum endorsed by the school board and superintendent. Rep. Brink has rescheduled the district officials to appear on March 9.
This week the Iowa House of Representatives passed a robust election integrity and security bill. The bill had already passed the Senate, it now goes to the governor for review and signature. The election in 2020 saw record-breaking turnout in the State of Iowa and with smooth administration due to Iowa’s strong election system. House File 590 (HF590) builds on Iowa’s strong track record of integrity and security when it comes to elections. Republicans did not want to wait for irregularities or cracks in the system to appear before taking action.
HF590 ensures the integrity of the election in several ways, but one of the most important is confirming that election officials are held to a high standard of performance and establishing recourse for when an elected official defies the laws of the state or does not act in the best interest of the voter. HF590 creates and strengthens election misconduct penalties for any elected official or person who willfully fails to conduct their election duties, fails to perform proper voter registration list maintenance, or interferes with a voter or authorized person at a polling location.
During the pandemic and as more and more Iowans are voting by absentee ballots, it is important that the accuracy and validity of each absentee ballot is secured. This bill increases the amount of reporting on absentee ballot requests received, absentee ballots sent, and completed absentee ballots received by all county auditors and the Secretary of State to be published daily once ballots are mailed. Additionally, each county auditor’s office will have a secure drop box that will be emptied and recorded at least 4 times a day. The drop boxes will be on county property, will have video surveillance to monitor all activity at the drop box, the drop boxes shall be securely fastened to a stationary surface, and be locked with a tamper-evident seal. Drop boxes will not be allowed at any other location within the county.
The bill also changes the period for early absentee voting, early satellite voting, and early in-person voting to 20 days before election day, giving Iowans 21 days to be able to cast their ballots in elections. With that change, Iowa will still have a longer early voting period than 26 other states. Additionally, the bill will conform poll closing times to 8 pm for all elections/previously some elections had a close of 9 pm while others had 8 pm. Even while closing polls at 8 pm, Iowa’s polls will stay open later than the national average of 7:30 pm.
With these changes, it is important to think of potential voters who can’t leave work to go vote. Current law entitles voters who cannot get 3 consecutive hours off work to vote, excused time off work without penalty to vote. This bill will lower that time, so if a worker cannot get 2 consecutive hours to vote, they would be entitled to excused time off work to vote.
To ensure uniformity throughout Iowa, this bill will apply in law that only absentee ballots received by the county auditor before 8 pm on election night will be counted. This will not affect military absentee ballots, anyone overseas, or who participates in the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home program.
If a voter arrives to a polling location after polls are closed they are not allowed to vote, this bill applies the same to absentee voters. There are plenty of ways for a voter to plan to deliver their ballot with 21 days to vote and a multitude of options for returning an absentee ballot. By enforcing a strict deadline for the absentee ballots it guarantees that every county has the same standard for counting ballots. This policy is not unique, in fact, 3 states who do mail voting (Colorado, Hawaii, and Oregon) use this standard for counting ballots.
The 2020 elections were extremely successful and saw record turnout, but that doesn’t mean that the Iowa Legislature should not continue to work hard to ensure that every Iowan’s vote counts in a fair and uniform manner. This bill goes a long way to put best election practices into law to ensure the integrity of future elections.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.