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Iowa counties face suits

IOWA CITY — President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has sued two Democratic-leaning Iowa counties that are making it easy to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to invalidate tens of thousands of voters’ absentee ballot applications.

The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups filed the lawsuits Wednesday against elections officials in Linn and Johnson counties.

At issue are absentee ballot request forms that the counties are sending to registered voters with personal information already filled in, including their names, dates of birth and voting pin numbers. Voters just have to review, sign and return the forms to get ballots in October that they can mail back or drop off, avoiding crowded polling places.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, last month told auditors in an emergency election directive that request forms mailed to voters must be blank in order “to ensure uniformity.”

Pate’s office has not taken any legal action to block the two counties’ mailings but said Thursday it is investigating their actions. Pate said that sending forms pre-filled with personal identifying information will give critics of absentee voting “an opportunity to question the validity of election results in those counties.”

The GOP lawsuits argue that the auditors are violating Pate’s directive by prepopulating the forms and that any ballots cast in response to the mailings may be subject to legal challenge.

They ask for court orders requiring the counties to contact tens of thousands of voters who have already requested absentee ballots and tell them they are invalid. Instead, those voters must be required to fill out new blank forms instead, the lawsuits argue.

A judge scheduled a hearing for Monday on Trump’s request for a temporary injunction.

Democrats and voting rights groups called the lawsuits a baseless attempt to suppress voting during a pandemic that has already killed 950 people in Iowa.

“Officials should be credited for taking action to streamline the absentee ballot application process to help ensure that more voters are able to be heard this election season,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Law. She called the lawsuits part of a national GOP campaign seeking to restrict access to absentee ballots.

The Republican National Committee says that it has doubled its legal budget to $20 million and is currently involved in about 40 election-related lawsuits.

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