Vote by mail

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

What a horrible sight to see all those poor people lined up for blocks in Milwaukee waiting to vote in a primary election that would decide the future of the state supreme court. Republicans bet that blocking the Democratic governor from delaying the election to an all-mail process would suppress urban turnout in the midst of a pandemic. The courts agreed to let the election go forward. When you see the pictures, you imagine the virus spreading. How silly.

Sillier yet, on the same day President Trump assailed voting by mail, calling it corrupt. He said in an interview that voting by mail could destroy Republican national ambitions for years. He urged people to work against it.

Fortunately, not everyone in Iowa shares the same motivations.

Buena Vista County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Sue Lloyd, a Republican, urges people to vote by mail for the June primaries and the November general election. She said hiring poll workers is tough even in normal times. In Milwaukee, polls were reduced from 180 to five for lack of workers. Lloyd reminds voters that it is easy to vote by mail — you may request a ballot by mail or, if necessary, you may visit the office for a ballot. The auditor stands ready to assist voters in any way possible, and to protect public health. She urges common sense.

Likewise Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, also a Republican. The former mayor of Cedar Rapids is trying to expand voting by mail as a way to protect public health and increase participation. This is how good government is supposed to work.

President Trump and the zealots in Wisconsin could take a cue from our election officials, who still believe in fairness and accuracy.

Voting by mail will increase turnout among every group. That should be the goal, not suppressing turnout in urban areas.

We always enjoyed the ritual of reporting to the Chautauqua Park shelterhouse and seeing Mary Estelle Cole, Sally Nichols or Roxie Fudge working the ballots. And you feel a little better wearing that sticker that says “I Voted” on the way home. But we can give it up knowing that they will be safer, that a paper record of our vote will exist with the auditor, and that nobody can hack it. And we barely need to get out of our chair, which is always a benefit.

We had an office

The Iowa unemployment system was designed for a few hundred applications per week, not tens of thousands like this week. As pandemic job refugees flock to the computer system to get enhanced jobless benefits under the federal relief bill, it locked up under demand. This reminds us of a series of editorials we wrote 11 years ago when Gov. Terry Branstad closed down 55 Iowa Workforce Development offices, including Storm Lake’s.

Our main objection then was that Branstad ignored the fact that the legislature specifically appropriated money to keep those offices open. He closed them instead by executive authority. Courts ruled that he exceeded his authority, but the damage was done with the offices closed. The state put in a kiosk at the Storm Lake Public Library over which the unemployed could apply for benefits. It was gone within a matter of months.

Time was when you could walk into the Storm Lake unemployment office and have your application done within 10 minutes with the help of trained staff. They could do it today from six feet and behind a plastic shield if we had an office. But we are saving money, and if it means we have an under-built system that leaves people destitute that is collateral damage.

We used to have an office of the Department of Natural Resources here. It meant something to Storm Lake, home to one of the top natural resource attractions in the Tri-State region. The office closed and state interest in Storm Lake wanes. We’re saving money to divert into a tax cut, nearly a billion dollars in income tax cuts over 25 years.

We attempted to apply for Social Security benefits. Storm Lake used to have an office. We got on the computer and were guided through a series of screens that took about 20 minutes. Then we answered a question wrong about some loan from six years ago, and the system said we were feeding in bad information and booted us off for at least 24 hours. We gave up the application process temporarily in frustration. We can only imagine how miserable it must be for a waitress and single mother who can’t get through to Iowa Workforce Development. In better days, we had an office where you knew her name.

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