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Iowa must prepare for potential of disrupted elections

COVID-19 likely to impact upcoming primary vote

Iowa’s primary is less than eight weeks away, and the state must be prepared for an election that looks different than other elections.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing is business as usual.

When government offices, public buildings and schools are closed, public gatherings are prohibited and businesses are struggling to function, it’s hard to imagine life will be back to normal by June 2. Instead, Iowa officials must plan for a voting process that relies less on public sites and groups of people sharing public spaces.

Failure to plan for a worst case scenario could be perilous for Iowa. One has only to look northeast to see how that works out.

Just 19 hours before primary voting was to get under way in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers issued a last-minute order prohibiting in-person voting and pushing voting out until June 9.

In a matter of minutes, Republican legislative leaders asked the state Supreme Court to block the order, saying Evers didn’t have the legal authority to postpone the election. The High Court did just that.

All that left voters and poll workers in a quandary about whether or not they should leave home to go to voting sites. With the troubling news of the day, it’s unfortunate citizens have to be nervous about exercising their Constitutional right. But that’s exactly what failed planning did in Wisconsin.

In Ohio, a court overturned a legislative attempt to push back the March primary to June. Then the state’s health director declared a public health emergency and shut down polls that way.

States must learn from these 11th-hour battles and better prepare for upcoming primaries and the fall general election.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate announced last week that every voter will get an absentee ballot request form ahead of the June 2 primary. For now, Iowa’s primary is scheduled to go forward as planned, but Pate has suggested everyone vote by mail to reduce the spread of the virus. He even extended the early voting period for mailed ballots to 40 days.

Every state should be making similar arrangements for upcoming primaries and the November general election — just in case. That should include online voter registration. If we can have work meetings and consult with doctors and teach kids electronically, surely everyone should be able to register to vote that way.

In early February, most Iowans thought the difficulty in getting results from the Iowa Caucus would be the weirdest thing to happen in 2020 elections. Elections officials must take these weeks and months to prepare to execute voting even in dire circumstances, now that we have glimpsed the unthinkable.

— Dubuque Telegraph Herald

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