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Iowa’s New Voting Laws – Fact Sheet

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In 2021, Iowa enacted two bills to strengthen its election procedures – Senate File 413 and Senate File 568.[1]  Together, they add several meaningful reforms to make it easier to vote, according to uniform practices, while bolstering election integrity.


S.F. 413 was the first major elections bill passed by Iowa in 2021 and institutes several common-sense changes to Iowa’s election laws.  The bill:


  • Establishes parameters for drop boxes to ensure uniformity and security throughout the state;
  • Enacts reasonable limitations on who can return another voter’s completed absentee ballot;
  • Prohibits election officials from unilaterally mailing ballots and applications to voters;
  • Tightens what was a comparatively long election timeline;
  • Extends the time before Election Day for officials to notify voters of a change to their polling location from four days to at least one week;
  • Implements uniform voter list maintenance requirements to ensure the accuracy of voter rolls;
  • Protects poll observer rights and duties from partisan election officials’ interference;
  • Establishes a cure period for voters to correct deficient absentee ballots;
  • Requires a voter to sign his or her absentee ballot envelope for the ballot to count;
  • Implements penalties for election officials who violate the election code; and
  • Improves enforcement provisions to protect against bad actors in elections.


S.F. 568 was signed into law a few months after S.F. 413 and similarly advances election integrity in Iowa.  Among other changes, S.F. 568:


  • Allows political parties and non-party political organizations to intervene in lawsuits;
  • Permits parties to challenge nomination petitions or certifications where the information contained therein is incorrect or incomplete;
  • Requires voters to present proof of identity before being able to register to vote and to have their provisional ballot counted;
  • Establishes procedures to protect printed results and memory devices of voting equipment;
  • Ensures satellite voting locations are adequately staffed, accessible to disabled voters, and used without jeopardizing ballot security and secrecy; and
  • Sets in motion the creation of a ballot application and ballot tracking system.


State legislatures generally have inherent authority to prescribe election procedures in state elections, unless their state constitutions provide otherwise.  State legislatures are authorized to determine the time, place, and manner of federal elections under Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution.[2]  States have the latitude to implement laws and procedures designed to administer their elections in an efficient, secure, and fair manner.  States have adopted different election policies and procedures to balance these objectives.  While states may be lenient or in the minority on certain election procedures designed to enable voters to easily participate, they often balance these procedures with more stringent, mainstream election rules to guarantee honesty and fairness in the process.  Iowa sought to calibrate a reasonable balance of election administration objectives in S.F. 413 and S.F. 568.


Immediately upon enactment, a lawsuit was filed to challenge S.F. 413.  The lawsuit was later amended to challenge the provisions of S.F. 568 also.  The lawsuit claims that the reforms contained within both bills violate the Iowa Constitution because they infringe upon the fundamental right to vote (Art. II, Sec. 1), liberty of speech (Art. I, Sec. 7), right to assembly (Art. 1, Sec. 20), and equal protection (Art. I, Sec. 6).[3]  The complaint asserts that the bills’ provisions individually and in combination are unconstitutional, but does not specify how each individual provision violates the state constitution.[4]


This memo examines the most significant provisions of the two bills by comparing them to similar, valid election procedures already in use by numerous states across the country to demonstrate the degree to which the bills’ provisions are squarely within the mainstream.


Drop Boxes


While voters in almost all states can drop off a completed absentee ballot by hand at their county election official’s office, only 22 states, including Iowa, make it possible for voters to return their completed ballots to a designated drop box or other early voting location.[5]  In considering whether to allow voters to return their mail ballots to designated drop boxes, states must weigh the desire for voters to easily return their mail ballots against the security risk created by the use of drop boxes.  Many states have decided not to utilize drop boxes in light of the risks.  States that permit the use of drop boxes, therefore, have established various safeguards to ensure drop boxes can be readily used by voters without being abused by bad actors or in danger due to honest mistakes.[6]


The lawsuit ironically recognizes that Iowa lawfully did not use ballot drop boxes prior to S.F. 413, yet having permitted their use as an additional accommodation to voters, the lawsuit challenges the allotment of only one drop box per county as unconstitutionally restrictive.[7]  During the COVID-19 pandemic, jurisdictions in Iowa and across the country were compelled to provide voters with expanded access to mail voting, which often included ballot return methods such as drop boxes.[8]  Before the 2020 election, only roughly a dozen or so states statutorily provided voters with the opportunity to return completed ballots to a drop box or other early voting location; that number has now increased to 22.[9]  Many of these states mandate or recommend that drop boxes be continuously monitored by staff or video camera and/or limit the authority of election supervisors to go beyond what statute prescribes, such as having mobile or 24-hour drop boxes.[10]


Drop boxes were not statutorily permitted in Iowa during the 2020 election cycle, yet certain county auditors nevertheless erected ballot drop boxes for voters to return their ballots.[11]  After 2020, Iowa passed S.F. 413, codifying the use of drop boxes and permitted county auditors to establish one drop box per county to ensure uniformity across Iowa’s 99 counties.[12]  S.F. 413 allows the accessible use of drop boxes while ensuring the security of the system through various safeguards.  The most important safeguard is a requirement that each drop box be monitored continuously while in use.  S.F. 413 follows the practice of numerous states that utilize drop boxes in requiring continuous monitoring.[13]


In passing S.F. 413, Iowa is one among a minority of states that even allow voters to return completed absentee ballots to a drop box or other early voting location.[14]  With S.F. 413’s commonsense safeguards, Iowa remains among the more progressive states offering this voting option while ensuring drop boxes are properly and uniformly used throughout the state.


Ballot Harvesting


The lawsuit challenges S.F. 413 and S.F. 568 because they limit who can return another voter’s completed absentee ballot and they criminalize unlawful ballot harvesting by other people.[15]  In efforts to expand ways in which voters may return their absentee ballots, many states allow voters to solicit the help of someone else to return the voter’s completed absentee ballot.  When states provide this option, they often combine it with safeguards and limitations to prevent fraud, voter coercion, and undue influence by persons assisting voters.


Eighteen states do not impose any parameters around who can return a voter’s completed absentee ballot, giving rise to acute ballot integrity concerns.[16]  Thirty-one states, in varying degrees, limit both who may handle or return a voter’s completed ballot and the number of completed ballots a person may return.[17]  Fifteen of these states—now including Iowa—allow absentee ballots to be returned only by the voter’s family member, household member, or caregiver.[18]  Sixteen of these states permit anyone to return the voter’s completed ballot so long as the voter designates the collector as his or her agent.[19]  Of these 31 states, ten––including Iowa––limit the number of ballots an agent may return on behalf of voters and four states––including Iowa––limit how long an agent may possess these ballots before returning them to election officials.[20]  Alabama stands alone in allowing only the voter to return his or her absentee ballot.[21]


Prior to enacting S.F. 413 and S.F. 568, Iowa voters were permitted to have a designated agent return their absentee ballots to election officials without any limitation on the number of ballots a designated agent could return.  Pursuant to S.F. 568, Iowa now permits only family members and housemates to return a voter’s completed absentee ballot, placing Iowa among 15 other states that have the same, lawful safeguard.[22]


S.F. 568 still allows disabled voters to utilize a delivery agent to return their ballot, so long as the proper forms are signed under oath before and after delivery and the delivery agent presents valid identification to election officials.[23]  S.F. 568 requires delivery agents to return completed ballots directly to election officials and they are prohibited from returning the ballot by drop box or by mail.[24]  Like the nine other states that permit designated agents subject to a limit on the number of ballots they may return, Iowa allows delivery agents to return up to two completed ballots.[25]  S.F. 413 also imposes a meaningful safeguard that a delivery agent return the voter’s completed ballot within 72 hours after receipt to ensure the voter’s ballot is timely returned and counted, joining three other states that limit the amount of time an agent may possess a voter’s ballot.[26]  The legislation further makes it a misdemeanor to violate Iowa’s ballot harvesting limitations.[27]  With the enactment of S.F. 413, Iowa now joins a handful of other states that criminalize ballot collection by unauthorized persons.[28]  Ultimately, nothing in S.F. 413 makes Iowa’s ballot harvesting limitations abnormal or unique.  Rather, Iowa’s limitations serve commonsense election integrity purposes without any constitutional infirmity.


Note: The United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee upheld Arizona’s law prohibiting ballot harvesting.[29]  Arizona’s law was far more strict than Iowa’s, allowing only persons in close relationship to the voter – family, caregiver, guardian – to return the voter’s completed ballot and making it a felony for unauthorized third parties to collect and return completed absentee ballots.[30]  In doing so, the 6-3 Court solidified the authority of states to implement similar election integrity safeguards in light of the compelling and entirely legitimate state interests in deterring potential fraud, protecting against undue influence, and improving voter confidence.[31]


Election Day Voting Restrictions


Election Day poll hours for in-person voting usually are uncontroversial, but the Iowa lawsuit alleges that Iowa’s new polling hours on Election Day are unconstitutional.[32]  While polling hours vary from state to state, most open at 7:00 am and close at 7:00 pm.[33]  Iowa’s polling hours on Election Day––7:00 am to 8:00 pm––are similar to the vast majority of states.


State rules can vary depending on the type of election and the size of the city or county.  But generally, 23 states open polls for 12 hours on Election Day.[34]  An additional 19, including Iowa, and the District of Columbia operate polls for 13 hours on Election Day.[35]  Only three states open polling locations for 14 hours or more on Election Day, and another three states open polls at unspecified or varying times.[36]  Vermont allows towns to keep polls open for a minimum of nine hours, and New Hampshire requires polls to be open for at least eight hours on Election Day.[37]


As for the time that states close their polls, Indiana and Kentucky close their polls at 6:00 pm.[38]  Twenty-one states close their polls at 7:00 pm.[39]  Three states close their polls at 7:30 pm.[40]  Twenty-one other states close their polls at 8:00 pm.[41]  Oregon is unspecified.[42]  New York and North Dakota are the only states that keep polling locations open until 9:00 pm, with New York requiring polls to stay open until 9:00 pm and North Dakota allowing polls to stay open as late as 9:00 pm.[43]


Prior to S.F. 413, Iowa law prescribed polls to be open at 7:00 am and close at 8:00 pm for all elections other than primary and general elections, during which polls were required to close at 9:00 pm.  S.F. 413 makes polling hours uniform for every election in Iowa, requiring for every election that polls open at 7:00 am and close at 8:00 pm.[44]  Iowa was among a few states previously that had their polls open for 14 or more hours but now joins the 18 other states and D.C. that keep polls open for 13 hours on Election Day.  Furthermore, even with the new law, Iowa is among the minority of states that keep their polls open until at least 8:00 pm.  Iowa’s changes to its polling location times are highly reasonable.


Voter Registration Period


The lawsuit challenges Iowa’s new voter registration period, which now requires voters to register at least 15 days before an election.[45]  Plaintiffs claim this is unconstitutional since the prior law allowed voters to register until 10 days before the general election and 11 days before other elections.[46]  The lawsuit acknowledges, however, that although voters are required to register at least 15 days before the election, voters are still permitted to register to vote on Election Day at their designated precinct.[47]  So while the new law enacts an earlier voter registration deadline, voters are in no way precluded from registering and voting on Election Day.


Iowa’s voter registration deadline is objectively normal.  Just like Iowa’s old voter registration deadline, S.F. 413’s new voter registration deadline of 15 days before the election ranks among the most liberal in the nation.  Fifteen states have a lawful voter registration deadline of 28-30 days before an election.[48]  At least another 11 states require voters to register at least 20-27 days before an election.[49]  Only six states, including Iowa, have a registration deadline of 15 days or less.[50]  All this is not to mention the 18 states, including Iowa, that permit voters to register on Election Day.[51]  Thus, with a pre-election deadline of 15 days before the election, and the fail-safe of Election Day registration, Iowa’s revised voter registration period ranks among the most accessible in the nation.


Absentee Voting Period


The lawsuit challenges Iowa’s new requirement that absentee ballots be mailed to voters no earlier than 20 days before an election as opposed to the prior law, which allowed ballots to be mailed starting 29 days before an election.[52]  In addition, the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of a new requirement that all absentee ballots are to be mailed to voters over a five-day period; the former law permitted a 19-day period.[53]  However, Iowa’s absentee voting period remains objectively normal compared to other states.


Iowa’s new law requires voters to submit absentee ballot applications at least 15 days before the election and requires election administrators to mail absentee ballots over a five-day period no earlier than 20 days before the election.[54]  Because voters are precluded from requesting an absentee ballot after the 15-day deadline (except for voters who are hospitalized or admitted into a care facility within three days of the election who qualify under Iowa’s emergency absentee voting provisions), the new law requires all absentee ballots to be mailed by the close of the request period.[55]  The former 19-day period meant that some absentee voters would receive their ballots by mail long before others who might have relatively little time to complete and return the ballot.  The new law ensures that all absentee voters receive their ballots around the same time and establishes a system for more orderly processing of absentee ballots, rather than a haphazard process.  Nothing about the new 5-day mailing period limits voters’ ability to return absentee ballots.  Rather, the new law guarantees voters will have sufficient and equal time to cast their absentee ballots in an orderly process.


States vary widely on when they begin distributing absentee ballots, balancing competing interests of giving voters sufficient time to complete and return their ballots, managing a complicated absentee ballot process, and limiting the amount of time ballots are away from the supervision of election officials.  Only five states mail ballots 50 or more days before an election.[56]  Twenty-three states mail ballots between 40 and 47 days before an election.[57]  Six states begin mailing ballots between 30 and 39 days before an election.[58]  Thirteen states, including Iowa, begin mailing ballots to voters between 20 and 29 days before an election.[59]  Just one state mails ballots less than 20 days before an election––Washington at 18 days.[60]  Even before Iowa’s new laws were passed, Iowa was still among the states with shorter mail ballot voting periods.  The argument that Iowa’s new absentee voting period is unconstitutional lacks merit, especially when 13 other states have very similar, valid absentee voting periods.


Absentee Ballot Return Deadline


The lawsuit alleges that Iowa’s new absentee ballot return deadline is unconstitutional.[61]  Iowa formerly counted absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrived no later than the Monday after the Election Day.  The new law follows most states in requiring voters to return their absentee ballots by Election Day to be counted.[62]


When determining when absentee ballots are to be returned, states must weigh interests of ballot access, ballot integrity, and the efficient administration of elections generally.  The longer ballots are accepted after Election Day, the greater threat exists to voter confidence due to delayed and shifting election results.  However, when absentee ballots are required to be returned before Election Day, there exists a greater chance of voter disenfranchisement.  Therefore, almost every state requires absentee ballots to either be returned on Election Day or in the few days following the election.  Deadlines are necessary to finalize an election.  The choice of the deadline—Election Day or some time thereafter—historically has not triggered constitutional doubt.


If S.F. 413’s ballot return deadline is unconstitutional, so are the deadlines of virtually all other states.  Thirty-one states, including Iowa, require absentee ballots to be returned by Election Day to be counted, ranging from noon to the close of polls.[63]  Louisiana is the only state that requires ballots to be returned the day before the election.[64]  Eighteen states accept absentee ballots that are returned after Election Day, so long as they are postmarked by Election Day.[65]  These states have deadlines ranging from one to 14 days after the election, with just over half being longer than Iowa’s former deadline of noon on the Monday following the election.[66]  Ultimately, most states adhere to the same deadline put forth in S.F. 413.


Poll Observer Protections


The experience of the 2020 national election was replete with anecdotes of partisan election officials excluding poll observers from monitoring and watching the electoral process.  Therefore, numerous states, like Iowa, took initiative to implement legislation to protect poll observers from undue interference.  The observation of public elections is a time-honored right that promotes transparency and instills confidence in election administration and results.  The lawsuit alleges, however, that S.F. 413 unconstitutionally protects poll observers from removal by election officials.[67]


Virtually every state affords poll watchers the opportunity to monitor the election process, and states in varying degrees provide protection to these observers to ensure transparency is maintained.[68]  S.F. 413 prevents an election official from obstructing or interfering with an observer who is performing his or her enumerated duties under the code.[69]  The law does so by implementing penalties for election officials who wrongfully violate the rights of observers.[70]  Importantly, the law does nothing to prevent election officials from inhibiting an observer’s ability to engage in activities at the polls that go beyond their official and lawful duties.[71]


S.F. 413 is similar to nearly every other state’s law concerning poll watchers, while S.F. 413 goes a step further to provide penalties for election observers who violate poll observer rights.  But because S.F. 413 does nothing to prevent election officials from dismissing observers who engage in activities at the polls that go beyond their official duties, it is virtually no different than the laws of almost every other state.


Satellite Polling Locations


The lawsuit also challenges Iowa’s changes to satellite polling locations, because Iowa removes election official discretion to establish a satellite location and because satellite locations can only be open for the 20 days leading up to an election.[72]


Unforeseen circumstances can warrant the need for election officials to set up satellite voting locations ahead of an election.  States often try to provide greater voter access through satellite voting locations but limit the scope of discretion vested in local election officials to establish them because of arbitrariness and lack of uniformity.  States try to ensure uniform opportunity for votes throughout the state.  S.F. 413 and S.F. 568 take these interests into consideration to ensure voters’ needs can be met without unnecessary satellite polling locations being established by election officials.


Before S.F. 413, county auditors could establish satellite polling locations at their own discretion and were required to do so upon receiving a petition by at least one hundred eligible voters.  S.F. 413 removed the discretion of county auditors to open a satellite polling location but left intact Iowans’ ability to petition for special polling locations.[73]  S.F. 413 clarifies that when a valid petition is submitted by voters, the county auditor is required to establish a satellite polling location.[74]


The lawsuit nevertheless alleges that S.F. 568 gives county auditors discretion to reject a valid petition by voters to establish a satellite polling location.[75]  This is not true.  The only discretion to reject a petition for a satellite polling location is when two valid petitions are submitted at the same time.[76]  County auditors are only allowed to reject a valid petition if the proposed satellite polling location is inaccessible to elderly or disabled voters, permission to use the location has been denied by the property holder, the location cannot be used whilst maintaining ballot security and secrecy, or the location cannot be adequately staffed.[77]


Lastly, S.F. 413 limits the period during which voters may submit a petition for a satellite polling location from 29 to 20 days.[78]  However, this arguably assists the county auditor in identifying the true needs of voters closer to the election and does nothing to prevent their establishment.  Ultimately, Iowa’s changes to satellite polling locations do not burden voters any more than the previous law.


Voter List Maintenance


The lawsuit challenges Iowa’s new procedures to ensure updated and accurate voter rolls.[79]


Most states have adopted measures to ensure the accuracy of their voting rolls so that only eligible voters receive a ballot.  This process usually includes removing deceased voters, voters who have moved away, and voters who are no longer eligible to vote from the rolls.  Some states also designate voters who have not participated for a set amount of time as “inactive,” eventually removing them if they fail to respond to mailers from the elections department or fail to vote for multiple elections.  The presumption is that the individuals no longer reside at their registered addresses and the “inactive” tool is used to remove such voters in order to maintain current, accurate pollbooks; otherwise, pollbooks become stale with significant numbers of people who no longer reside at the addresses where they were initially registered.


Twenty states eventually remove voters who do not vote or otherwise engage with election officials for a set period of time, many of which label voters “inactive” before removing them.[80]  Eight states deem voters inactive if they have not voted in the past four years and fail to respond to election officials, removing those who remain inactive through two general elections.[81]  Four states require voters to remain inactive for eight years, or two entire election cycles, before removing them.[82]  Three states mail notices to voters after five years of inactivity and remove the voter after nine years of inactivity.[83]  Four states remove voters who have not participated in the past four with no inactive labeling.[84]  Wyoming removes voters who fail to vote in one general election.[85]


S.F. 413 makes Iowa a hybrid of these states.  Under the law, voters are marked inactive if they do not participate in one general election or do not respond to a flyer sent by election officials to determine their active registration.[86]  If the voter is inactive for two successive general elections, they can be removed.[87]  But because Iowa has Election Day registration, even removed voters can still vote on Election Day by registering at the polls.


To further ensure Iowa’s voter lists are accurate, and avoid unnecessary removal of stale registrations, S.F. 413 requires the State Registrar to use information from several databases, including cross-state matches and National Change of Address data, to update voter information and remove duplicate voters, voters who have died, and voters who have moved.[88]  S.F. 568 allows notice from the Social Security Administration of a death to serve as notice to remove a voter.[89]  S.F. 568 also puts every county on the same maintenance schedule to ensure that voter list maintenance is uniform across all counties in Iowa.[90]


Iowa is now one of the 20 states that remove inactive voters who have not participated in successive elections and ranks in the middle of the pack on stringency of maintenance procedures.  Like numerous other states, Iowa laws provide the voter with adequate notice to ensure the voter is not wrongfully removed.  Common-sense reforms like these ensure voter rolls are accurate and that only eligible Iowa voters are receiving ballots to vote.


Note: The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) requires states to conduct a general program to remove the names of ineligible voters while establishing parameters to protect voters from unwarranted removal.[91]  Section 8 of the NVRA establishes procedures for states to remove ineligible persons from the voter rolls by reason of the person’s death, a change in the residence of the registrant outside of the jurisdiction, and, if state law so provides, for mental incapacity or for criminal conviction.[92]  The NVRA prevents states from removing voters simply for not participating in an election; voters can only be removed only if they fail to respond to election mail and do not vote in two general elections.[93]  S.F. 413 abides by these parameters.  While Iowa voters can become inactive for not voting in one general election or responding to election mail, they are not removed until two general elections have passed without their participation.  Therefore, S.F. 413’s list maintenance procedures are complaint with federal law.


Automatic Mailing of Absentee Ballot Applications


The lawsuit attacks S.F. 413’s provision prohibiting county auditors from unilaterally mailing absentee ballot applications to voters and prefilling voter information in absentee ballot applications.[94]


Prior to 2020, the practice of election officials mailing absentee ballot applications unilaterally, in the absence of voter-submitted applications, was rare.[95]  It is common practice across the county to require voters affirmatively to request their own absentee ballot applications before election officials would mail applications to voters.[96]  As officials began unilaterally mailing absentee ballot applications to voters during the 2020 election cycle, it led to litigation in states like Iowa where officials were not statutorily authorized to do so.[97]  Particularly controversial in Iowa was the practice by certain county auditors to prefill absentee ballot applications with the voter’s personal information before mailing it to the voter without the voter’s request.[98]


Nationally, this practice was problematic because it led to the circulation of thousands of unrequested absentee ballot applications prefilled with the names of people who no longer resided at the addresses listed in pollbooks.  The problem was compounded by outdated and inaccurate pollbooks.  It also caused significant confusion among voters who did not desire to vote by absentee ballot.  After the 2020 election cycle, many states like Florida and Georgia passed legislation statutorily prohibiting officials from unilaterally sending absentee ballots to voters without their request.[99]


S.F. 413 creates consistent procedures and practices across counties in the state to ensure there is an actual person requesting each absentee ballot, to bolster voter and public confidence, and to avoid voter confusion.  The bill prohibits county auditors from unilaterally mailing absentee ballot applications to voters without their request.[100]  The bill also prohibits state and county commissioners from mailing absentee ballots to voters who have not requested an absentee ballot, unless the Governor declares a public health disaster followed by a resolution from the General Assembly or by the legislative council if the General Assembly is not in session.[101]   Lastly, S.F. 413 bars election officials from prefilling voter information on the absentee ballot applications other than the date of the election to ensure voter privacy.[102]


With the passage of S.F. 413, Iowa remains among the vast majority of states that do not statutorily authorize election officials to unilaterally send absentee ballot applications to voters without their request, leaving the decision in the hands of the voter.


Penalties for Noncompliant Election Officials


The lawsuit challenges a provision of S.F. 413 that prescribes penalties for election officials who fail to administer the law.[103]  However, laws that hold election officials accountable are becoming more and more common to ensure the rule of law is upheld in elections and not disregarded.


While the electoral process is the most common way to hold elected officials accountable, states have enacted other means by which to hold rogue officials to their statutory duties, such as removal by executive officials, recall elections, fines, and other means.  Providing these options ensures officials are held accountable in their duty to uphold and adhere to the law.


At least nine states, including Iowa, have recently enacted legislation providing repercussions for election official malfeasance.[104]  S.F. 413 establishes a $10,000 penalty for when election officials commit technical infractions, such as by going beyond or not following the law.[105]  This penalty also exists for when election officials interfere with a poll watcher’s ability to monitor the process.[106]  Laws holding election officials accountable will only continue to be the norm, and Iowa’s is not out of the ordinary.


Voter Time Off to Vote


The lawsuit alleges that because S.F. 413 limits the number of mandatory hours off work employees have to vote––from three to two––S.F. 413 is unconstitutional.[107]


Twenty-one states and D.C. do not even have laws requiring employers to give their employees time off to vote on Election Day.[108]  Twenty-nine states, including Iowa, require employers to give employees time off to vote on Election Day.[109]  Of these 29, Alabama and Wyoming provide voters with one hour off work to vote.[110]  Fourteen, including Iowa, give voters two hours off work to vote.[111]  Only six states give voters three or more hours off work to vote, and another seven states have mandatory time off but do not specify the amount of time employers are to provide employees to vote.[112]


Prior to S.F. 413, employees were required to be given three hours to vote on Election Day, but now voters have two hours.[113]  However, even with the reduction in mandatory time to vote, Iowa is among 14 states that provide employees with at least two hours off work to vote.  Because Iowa’s mandatory time off to vote is more than 23 other states, there is little ground to say the law is unconstitutional.




Allegations that the new provisions of S.F. 413 and S.F. 568 place an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right to vote challenge well-established election administration rules implemented by an overwhelming number of states over decades.  The balance struck in Iowa’s recent reforms put Iowa’s election administration policies well within the mainstream of states.  Even if some of Iowa’s new reforms go farther than other states with similar laws, some are more lenient.  Taken as a whole, these reforms manifest Iowa’s efforts to maintain voter access while safeguarding fairness, uniformity, and honesty in elections.  Iowa’s new reforms are neither new nor unique; they are commonplace election safeguards that have been enacted and upheld for years across the country that seek to meaningfully protect voter participation while safeguarding election integrity.




[Last updated March 14, 2022]



[1] See Senate File 413, 2021 Iowa Acts Chpt. 12, available at:; Senate File 568, 2021 Iowa Acts Chpt. 147, available at:

[2] U.S. Const. art. I, § 4, cl 1.

[3] LULAC of Iowa v. Pate, Amended Petition (June 10, 2021), available at:

[4] Id. at 4.

[5] Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options, NCSL (Feb. 17, 2022), available at: also Ballot Drop Box Definitions, Design Features, Location and Number, NCSL (Feb. 14, 2022), available at:

[6] See id.

[7] Am. Pet. at 13.

[8] Changes to election dates, procedures, and administration in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Ballotpedia (Nov. 19, 2020), available at:,_procedures,_and_administration_in_response

[9] Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options (Feb. 17, 2022).

[10] Ballot Drop Box Definitions, Design Features, Location and Number (Feb. 14, 2022).

[11] Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate issued guidance to allow elections commissioners to set up absentee ballot drop boxes at or outside their offices.  A lawsuit attempting to broaden the use of drop boxes to grocery stores and other locations failed to show how the limited prescription of drop boxes was a severe burden on the right to vote.  See Ryan J. Foley, Judge backs Iowa’s limits on absentee ballot drop box sites, Des Moines Register (Oct. 29, 2020), available at:

[12] S.F. 413, Sec. 53.

[13] Id.; Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options (Feb. 17, 2022). See also Table 10: Ballot Collection Laws, NCSL (Jan. 6, 2022), available at:

[14] Table 10: Ballot Collection Laws (Jan. 6, 2022).

[15] Am. Pet. at 13-14.

[16] Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options (Feb. 17, 2022). See also Table 10: Ballot Collection Laws, (Jan. 6, 2022).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] S.F. 413, Sec. 65; S.F. 568, Sec. 43. See also fn. 30.

[23] S.F. 568, Sec. 43.  Voters who are admitted into a care facility or hospital after the absentee ballot request period ends are also permitted to have a qualified designated agent deliver their absentee ballot.  See S.F. 413, Sec. 61.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] S.F. 413, Sec. 52.

[27] Id. at Sec. 65.

[28] Arizona (A.R.S. § 16-1005), Georgia (O.C.G.A. § 21-2-385(b)), Florida (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 104.0616), North Carolina (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 163.226.3), and Texas (Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 86.006(g)).

[29] Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, 141 S. Ct. 2321 (July 1, 2021), available at:

[30] Id.

[31] See id.

[32] Am. Pet. at 14.

[33] Polling Places, NCSL (Oct. 20, 2020), available at:

[34] Idaho and Maine statutorily prescribe for polls to stay open for 12 hours on Election Day, offering flexible opening times in certain circumstances. See id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id. Kansas counties in General Mountain Time open at 6:00 am and close at 6:00 pm, all others open at 7:00 am and close at 7:00 pm.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id. Tennessee counties in Eastern Standard Time close at 8:00 pm while counties in Central Time close at 7:00 pm.  Nebraska counties in Central Time open at 8:00 am and close at 8:00 pm while counties in General Mountain Time open at 7:00 am close at 7:00 pm.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] S.F. 413, Sec. 36.

[45] Am. Pet. at 10.

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] Voter Registration Deadlines, NCSL (Jan. 4, 2022), available at:

[49] Id.

[50] Id.  In Montana, regular registration closes 30 days before the election, however, voters can still register and vote in the election by late registration at their county election office or designated location until noon the day prior to the election. How to Register to Vote, Montana Secretary of State, available at:

[51] Id.

[52] Am. Pet. at 11.

[53] Id.

[54] S.F. 413, Sec. 47.  This requirement does not apply to mail ballots sent to overseas citizens under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), which requires ballots to be mailed to registered overseas citizens no later than 45 days before an election to ensure any delivery issues can be resolved before Election Day.

[55] S.F. 413, §§ 61, 62.

[56] When States Mail Out Absentee Ballots, NCSL (Feb. 7, 2022), available at:

[57] Id.

[58] Id.

[59] Id.

[60] Id. Nevada and Hawaii have no statutory timeline for when election officials begin mailing out ballots.  Hawaii only requires ballots to be received by voters no later than 18 days before the election.  H.R.S. § 11-102.

[61] Am. Pet. at 11-12.

[62] S.F. 413, Sec. 54.

[63] VOPP: Table 11: Receipt and Postmark Deadlines for Absentee Ballots, NCSL (Jan. 7, 2022), available at:

[64] Id.

[65] Id.

[66] Id.

[67] Am. Pet. at 16.

[68] Policies for Election Observers, NCSL (Oct. 13, 2020), available at:

[69] S.F. 413, Sec. 40.

[70] Id.

[71] Id.

[72] Am. Pet. at 12-13.

[73] S.F. 413, Sec. 51.

[74] Id.

[75] Am. Pet. at 12.

[76] S.F. 568, Sec. 40.  In this instance, the county auditor must choose between the two proposed satellite locations.

[77] Id.

[78] S.F. 413, Sec. 51.

[79] Am. Pet. at 14-15.

[80] Voter Registration List Maintenance, NCSL (Oct. 7, 2021), available at:

[81] Id.

[82] Id.

[83] Id.

[84] Id.

[85] Id.

[86] S.F. 413, Sec. 25.

[87] Id. at Sec. 29.

[88] Id. at Sec. 25.

[89] S.F. 568, Sec. 22.

[90] Id.

[91] National Voter Registration Act of 1993, 52 U.S.C. § 20507 (1993). See also The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), United States Department of Justice, available at:

[92] Id.

[93] Id.

[94] Am. Pet. at 15.

[95] See Changes to Election Dates, Procedures, and Administration in Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, Ballotpedia (2020), available at:,_procedures,_and_administration_in_response_

[96] Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options, NCSL (Feb. 17, 2022).

[97] Clara Ilkka, Part II: Pre-filled absentee ballot applications cause pre-election headaches for Iowa voters, State of Elections, William & Mary Law School, Election Law Society (Oct. 23, 2020), available at:

[98] Clara Ilkka, Uncertainty continues for voters as Iowa Supreme Court upholds invalidation of pre-filled ballot request forms, William & Mary Law School, Election Law Society (Nov. 3, 2020), available at:

[99] Senate Bill 202 As Passed, Georgia General Assembly (Mar. 25, 2021), available at:; Senate Bill 90, Chpt. 2021-11, Laws of Fla. (2021), available at:

[100] S.F. 413, Sec. 43.

[101] Id. at Sec. 49.

[102] Id. at Sec. 44.

[103] Am. Pet. at 15.

[104] Matt Vasilogambros, Republican Legislators Curb Authority of County, State Election Officials, PEW (July 28, 2021), available at

[105] S.F. 413, Sec. 9.

[106] Id. at Sec. 40.

[107] Am. Pet. at 14.

[108] State Laws on Voting Rights Time Off to Vote, Workplace Fairness, available at:

[109] Id.

[110] Id.

[111] Id.

[112] Id.

[113] S.F. 413, Sec. 41.