Iowa judge orders county to invalidate 50,000 absentee requests, ruling in favour of Trump campaign

The Thursday ruling marks the first of others Donald Trump and his campaign could see ahead of the November election 

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Friday 28 August 2020 17:51 BST
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A judge has ordered an Iowa county to invalidate 50,000 requests for absentee ballots after the elections commissioner pre-filled out personal information – a decision that sided with the Trump campaign.

Judge Ian Thorn issued the temporary injunction ordering Linn County Auditor Joel Miller that he must inform voters in the second largest Iowa county that the forms should have not been pre-filled with information, thus they cannot be processed.

"It is implausible to conclude that near total completion of an absentee ballot application by the auditor is authorised under Iowa law where the legislature has specifically forbidden government officials from partially completing the same document," Judge Thornhill wrote in a Thursday ruling.

"Not every county can afford the prepopulated request forms," he added.

The county will have to re-send out ballot requests to voters for them to fill out, otherwise the voters will have to vote in-person on Election Day.

The Trump campaign and Republican party filed a lawsuit against Linn County, which is home to Cedar Rapids, as one of dozens of legal battles regarding absentee ballots the groups were taking on ahead of the November election.

In the lawsuit, the campaign said absentee ballot requests should have been blank except for the election date and type, per the Iowa secretary of state's directions. These rules were ignored in the more than 140,000 requests sent out to residents.

According to the lawsuit, the county already received back 50,000 completed forms, all of which are now void.

"Because the defendant sent the ABR [absentee ballot request] forms to voters with the required security information pre-populated, there is no assurance that the ABR forms returned to his office were actually sent by the voter listed on the ABR," the Trump campaign wrote in its lawsuit. "If the defendant mails absentee ballots in response to the prepopulated ABR forms, any of those absentee ballots that are cast would be subject to challenge and may not be counted in the 2020 general election."

The county has said that it plans to mail out new request forms to any voter impacted.

"Voters should rest assured that even if they submit multiple requests, they will only receive one ballot," the county said in a statement Thursday.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement Thursday that the "ruling upholds a key voter protection mechanism and will help to ensure Iowa's elections are free, fair and transparent."

Absentee ballots have become a popular form to vote in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it has faced attacks from the president and his campaign over the possibility voter fraud could occur.

More states have moved towards allowing their residents to vote by mail come the November election to avoid large gatherings at polling places, causing increased scrutiny into the process.

Iowa residents voted by absentee ballot for the primary election in June, and it led to record turnout for votes cast.

Then the Republican-led Legislature passed a law making it harder for residents to vote because it required them to fill out their four-digit voting identification numbers on the form – something few voters know.

That was why election commissioners provided absentee ballot request forms with the information already included, so it would prevent voters from leaving the area blank and thus requiring auditors to contact them to complete the application.

The ruling on Thursday by Judge Thornhill was the first of others to come after the Trump campaign filed lawsuits in two other Iowa counties and in other states across the US.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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