Iowa Secretary of State talks combined local elections, felon voting rights

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate talks voting at a Marshall County Pachyderm Herd meeting Friday afternoon.

One of the top priorities laid out by Gov. Kim Reynolds at the beginning of this year’s legislative session was restoration of voting rights to felons who had served their time.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate discussed that proposal and much more at a Marshall County Pachyderm Herd meeting Friday afternoon.

“The governor proposed a constitutional amendment. There’s also been some discussion on what a constitutional amendment would look like,” Pate said. “The thing I find is that these felons aren’t asking to get their rights restored.”

He said his office has not so far heard many calls or complaints from felons who wish to vote. Pate said Reynolds and her predecessor, Gov. Terry Branstad, previously took steps to make the process of restoring voting rights to felons easier.

“Gov. Branstad, just before he left office worked with our office and he reduced the questions they have to fill to get their rights restored to a pretty simple format. Gov. Reynolds even simplified it more and has directed the courts and corrections to elevate and update their particular role in all this,” Pate said. “Our office, our role is we take the lists that are given to us by the courts … and share those with the county auditors to double-check it.”

Another discussion was about the combined city and school elections that are coming up later this year. Previously, school elections were held in the fall while city elections were held during the traditional November timeframe.

“We hope voter participation increases, because I’ll tell you I’m very disappointed on that one,” Pate said. “When you see cities only have an 8-, 6-percent voter turnout for city council and mayor? Ouch.”

While his office plays a big role in voting, Pate said voter turnout is driven by other factors, like if voters understand the importance of local elections or how popular candidates are in given races.

Pate said the idea behind the combined elections is to save money.

“We’re watching to see if this helps at all,” he said.

Peter Rogers of the Pachyderm Herd asked if Pate’s office has been pushing for changes to the state’s bond election laws. He said he is concerned that some government entities try to push a bond election without proper timing to try and get it passed without much public input.

Pate said the legislature has been having some of those discussions.

“We have a lot of (bond) elections, we’re very, very generous in Iowa,” Pate said. “We know that we need flexibility … to where you at least have two windows a year. But when you start getting to three and four, it starts getting really strange.”

The regular city/school election will be Nov. 5, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.

For more information on elections in Iowa, visit https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterreg/pollingplace/search.aspx