Protecting Elections from Voter Suppression
Request to Vote from Home
Coming off a record turnout in the primary election in June, Iowans could once again be voting during a health pandemic that may require them to plan ahead to keep themselves and their community safe.
Beginning last week, Iowans can now start requesting to vote by mail. A link to the form can be found here: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/absenteeballotapp.pdf. Just fill out the vote by mail form, mail it to your county auditor, and a ballot will be sent to your home in early October.
Iowans are encouraged to submit their vote by mail form early this year because Republican leaders proposed new restrictions during session at the last minute to make it more difficult for Iowans to vote by mail this fall during COVID. While House Democrats continued to work across party lines to reach a compromise and protect the right to vote, several changes were signed into law in June that will lead to voter suppression.
The first change will require the Secretary of State to seek legislative approval before making changes to how elections are administered in emergency situations, which will prevent the Secretary from unilaterally sending out absentee ballot requests without first getting legislative approval. The changes will not prevent a local county auditor from sending requests to registered voters if they choose to, which many auditors have plans set in place to do.
Another change made on the last day of session will make it harder for Iowans to vote by mail by requiring more information on a form and preventing local auditors from using verified information in the voter registration database to help voters complete the form if they’ve made a mistake. A similar idea was adopted several years ago, but it was overturned by an Iowa Court.
New Food Assistance for Students Impacted by COVID
Some Iowa families will be receiving more food assistance benefits due to the ongoing pandemic, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) announced last week.
Households with children in Pre-K through grade 12 who lost access to free and reduced-price meals due to school closures are eligible to receive this extra benefit.
Over 247,000 Iowa children who are eligible to receive the extra $307.80 in food assistance, and will receive this money in one of two ways:
- If the child’s household already receives food assistance benefits, their benefits will automatically be added to the household’s current EBT card on July 15, 2020.
- If the child’s family has not previously had access to food assistance, they will receive a new P-EBT card in the mail between July 14-21, 2020.
For more information regarding this extra benefit, please visit: https://dhs.iowa.gov/P-EBT?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
Governor Signs Online Education for Schools Legislation
On July 1st schools submitted their online learning plans, called Return to Learn.
Schools will have to be ready for instruction in August by either in a classroom or online which will require access to the internet and a computer for students. With the lack of reopening guidance from the Department of Education, districts on their own will decide whether or not to require face masks, how to social distance, or have temperature checks.
The Governor has also signed new online learning regulations in SF 2310 that also addresses COVID-19. Here are some of its provisions:
- Open Enrollment – The deadline is extended to apply for open enrollment from April 1 to July 15 for an online program. It is only open to a child, or another resident of the child’s residence, that has a significant health condition that increases the risk of COVID-19.
- Truancy Regarding Online Learning – If a district implements their online program, any student that does not participate remotely through an online learning program due to COVID could be considered truant.
- Social Distancing – In implementing social distancing policies included in a return-to-learn plan, schools are required, to the extent possible, in-person instruction for core academic subjects.
- Statewide Assessment – The Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP), is required to be administered for the upcoming school year. The Governor waived its implementation for the 2019-20 school year due to Covid-19.
- CPR Certification Waived – The requirement that a student complete a CPR course to graduate is waived, if the school district or accredited nonpublic school closes.
Racial and Ethnic Minorities Most Impacted by COVID-19 at Meat Processing Facilities
Iowa is the nation’s leading pork producer and has about a dozen large-scale meat processing plants. A new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report studying the impact of COVID-19 on workers at meat processing plants found that 87% of people infected were racial or ethnic minorities even though they make up 61% of the overall worker population. To date, at least 86 workers have died from COVID-19.
However, the State of Iowa did not contribute COVID-related meat processing plant data to the CDC, although many of Iowa’s meat processing plants continue to experience COVID cases.
This past session, Iowa GOP leaders passed legislation providing blanket immunity to meat processing corporations and bad actors from COVID-19 liability. Under Senate File 2338, Iowa meat processing plants have special protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits. Iowans are unable to sue meat processing corporations unless they are hospitalized or die of COVID-19. Facilities are also not liable for civil damages related to coronavirus exposure unless they “recklessly disregard” a risk of exposure or intentionally expose someone to the virus.
Democratic lawmakers proposed amendments to protect Iowans who have to continue working during the pandemic, including requiring meat processing corporations to report COVID outbreak related data to Iowa public health officials.
SF 2338 was signed into law by the Governor last month and retroactively became effective January 1, 2020.
Other Iowa News
DRIVER’S LICENSE STATIONS OPEN BY APPOINTMENT ONLY: The Iowa Department of Transportation is working to provide the services Iowans need while keeping individuals as safe as possible during the pandemic. DOT service centers are currently open by appointment only, walk-in customers will not be served. Due to demand, appointments may need to be scheduled several weeks out. To schedule an appointment or to see if there are alternatives to an in-person appointment visit, https://iowadot.gov/mvd/driverslicense/service-selector. Visitors must wear masks at appointments. Iowa DOT rest areas, garages, weigh scales, and administrative offices are open. Cleaning and sanitation efforts have increased in rest areas, particularly in high touch areas.
COVID UNEMPLOYMENT STILL AVAILABLE: Iowans can still apply for unemployment if they were laid off due to COVID-19 or had their hours reduced. People can apply for unemployment here, https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/ Currently people on unemployment receive an extra $600 a week which is paid for by the federal government. Unless Congress acts before the end of the month, the extra payment will stop on July 31st. For people looking for work, Iowa Workforce Development has temporary job openings posted on their website at: https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/temp-jobs
STATE UNIVERSITIES UPDATE: In the Legislature’s omnibus budget bill, the state’s universities were cut by $8 million. They have now been cut by the state legislature by over $26 million over the last four years, despite the Regents agreeing to freeze tuition for the upcoming fall semester. They have not ruled out increasing tuition for the Spring semester to help make up the difference.
COVID & MENTAL HEALTH: The coronavirus outbreak may be causing new or additional stress and anxiety. For Iowans in need of someone to talk to or in need of help accessing mental health resources, Your Life Iowa is available 24/7 to talk over phone, text, or live chat. Call: (855) 581-8111 Text: (855) 895-8398 Chat: YourLifeIowa.org.