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Linn County auditor reacts to judges ruling invalidating 50,000 absentee ballot request forms

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL)- 'Disgusting.' That is how Linn County auditor Joel Miller described Judge Ian Thornhill's ruling Thursday Thursday that tens of thousands of absentee ballot request forms were invalid.

"I think the judge did a disservice to voters," he said.

Thornhill ruled county elected officials overstepped by pre-filing the ballots with voters' personal information.

The Trump campaign and other GOP groups sued Iowa's second-largest county to invalidate the requests. The Auditor's Office will now void each request form, which was pre-filled with voter information.

"The secretary of state has told us that we cannot send voter-id cards out in mass," Miller said. "What he didn't say to me was, you can't send out a prefilled absentee ballot request form. And that's what I did."

In July, Pate said he instructed all county auditors that all absentee ballot request forms that get sent out should be blank.

On Tuesday, Pate sent Miller a notice of technical infraction for the issues.

"The law recognizes that election officials and indeed all public officials may occasionally err," Pate wrote. "It is clear that you made a knowing and willful decision to disobey the law and disrespect the legislative process."

In a letter to Iowa Attorney General Thomas Miller this week, Pate described it as illegally breaching voters' information.

Pate said he found no legitimate purpose to include personal information.

Miller said that he sent the forms pre-filled with a voters drivers’ license or voter verification numbers to make it easier to vote by mail during the pandemic.

"Whether they have a Ph.D. or a fifth-grade education, voters make mistakes, and they forget to put information on the absentee ballot request form," he said. " I tried to make it as simple as possible to provide them with a form that they could use that would pass the test."

Miller said he expected around 10% of absentee ballots that get sent in would have issues, rendering them unusable.

A new law passed by state lawmakers in June prevents election officials from using databases to fix missing information on ballots. They have to contact the individual voter and have them do it.

"That puts people that want to vote by mail at a higher risk of being disenfranchised that people that show up at the polls," he said.

In court, opponents argued that pre-filling ballots could lead to voter fraud, something Miller roundly rejected.

"Not one Linn County resident has complained of being harmed by receiving an absentee ballot a prefilled absentee ballot request from my office," he said. "We have lots of safeguards in the system that are designed to protect against double voting or people voting who are not registered to vote."

The Trump’s campaign and other GOP groups have also filed lawsuits seeking to invalidate absentee ballot requests in Johnson and Woodbury counties. Pate said he is still looking into the issues in the other two counties.

New, blank absentee ballot request forms and return envelopes will be mailed to each impacted voter in mid-September. The Iowa Secretary of State's Office will also be sending separate absentee ballot request forms to all voters in the next few weeks. Voters may also access a new request form by clicking here.

The Iowa Attorney General has until September 9th to decide whether to look into the matter.

Pate said he is prepared to notify voters once the investigation is completed and will re-issue voter verification numbers after the general election.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the state, Miller said he believes his decision is justified.

"I didn't do it for political purposes," he said. "I did it for the voters in my community."

Miller said he is considering his legal options to respond to Thursday's ruling.

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Daniel Perreault

Reporter

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