Last week, many Iowans showed up to an important hearing on Iowa’s new voter ID law to voice their opposition to it. But instead of listening to their concerns, Secretary of State Paul Pate shut out the 150 people who showed up. If you’re the chief election officer of your state, you have two main jobs: make sure that every eligible voter can vote and that only eligible voters cast a ballot. The good secretaries of State also make the process as convenient as possible. That must not be Secretary Pate’s philosophy because in 2016, he was the only chief election official in the country to file a voter ID bill himself-- and then didn’t even show voters the time of day at last week’s hearing.
The bill was HF 516, and it also cut Iowa’s early voting period by 11 days. Secretary Pate’s bill doesn’t make sure people get to vote, nor does it strengthen our electoral system. Instead, it makes voting more bureaucratic and costs Iowa taxpayers more money. Nevertheless, the bill became law and thousands of Iowans who have been voting for decades may not be able to vote when the law takes effect in 2019.
I know most folks out there have an ID, but there are about 290,000 Iowa voters who don’t have the identification required to vote under this bill. They’re getting through life just fine without one, so why should they lose the right to vote if they don’t want to get the government identification Iowa Republicans want them to have?
Overall, HF 516 shortens Iowa’s early voting period from 40 to 29 days and requires specific, state-issued photo ID at the polls, which has a vastly disproportionate effect on low income workers, seniors, rural voters, and people with disabilities. Secretary Pate decided he wanted to make voting even more inconvenient.
Who out there was clamoring for Iowa legislators to take away voting days besides Secretary Pate? No one. Certainly not elderly Iowans who aren’t able to drive anymore, and may not have a valid, state-issued drivers license. That’s why being forced to buy an ID to vote in elections once or twice a year is simply voter suppression. The financial and logistical barriers of voter ID laws mean that many people who have legally voted for years will be kept from voting in Iowa in upcoming elections.
Beyond that, voter ID laws are inconvenient, discriminatory, and purely partisan. In 2013, then-Secretary of State Matt Schultz admitted that the motivation to pass voter ID laws was political, and that passing voter ID laws was the first step to enacting a Republican policy agenda. With the passage of HF 516, Secretary of State Paul Pate and Iowa Republicans are taking that manipulative strategy in stride. State Representative Ken Rizer’s explanation for passing HF 516 sums it up: “It is true that there isn’t widespread voter fraud. But there is a perception that the system can be cheated. That’s one of the reasons for doing this.” You read that right-- Republicans voted to stop people from voting because of perception, not reality.
So how does a policy that could stop 260,000 Iowans from voting gain enough traction to become law? The answer is misinformation. Secretary Pate was caught manipulating statistics on voting irregularities to try and build a better case for his undemocratic bill. His own staff tried to stop him, but he ignored them and misled the public in the name of politics anyway because Pate, like far too many other politicians across America, is trying to choose his voters instead of having voters elect him.
Besides being explicitly partisan and undermining the sanctity of our democracy, Iowa’s new law is expected to end up costing taxpayer money that could be used in much better ways. It is estimated that implementing Iowa’s voter ID law will cost at least $500,000 in the first year alone -- money that could be put towards fixing roads and funding schools, but instead is funding the obstacles that will keep many Iowans from voting.
There’s one thing that all voters, regardless of political party, can agree on: elections should be fair, accurate and secure. That’s why instead of stopping eligible voters from voting, Secretary Pate should focus on making it more convenient to vote. Iowa could become a leader in election security by implementing an automatic voter registration system -- a system where voters will be electronically registered to vote by state officials unless they choose to opt out. Automatic voter registration is one of the best ways to make sure that voter rolls remain accurate and as up-to-date as possible, and prevents people from being registered in two places at once.
Secretary Pate and Republicans in the Iowa legislature injected intense partisanship into the administration of elections. Politics should play out on the campaign trail, not in the voting booth, and elected officials should listen to their voters. Their actions were wrong, which is why Let America Vote is opening an office in Iowa to make them answer for their bad choices.