Iowa voter ID bill heads to governor
DES MOINES — Iowa will require voters to show identification at the polls and will reduce its early voting period under a bill finalized Thursday in the Republican-controlled Legislature, a move that advocacy groups say will suppress voter turnout in a state known for its high participation.
The Senate approved the bill on a 28-21 vote Thursday, after the House passed the same legislation this month. The measure now heads to Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who has indicated support for the ID requirement.
Several states have introduced similar voter ID requirements in recent years. While some states have pushed a photo requirement, Iowa’s proposal would allow a person to show identification that doesn’t include one.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has been a staunch supporter of the bill, which originated from his office. In a statement, Pate said it “ensures every eligible Iowan will be able to cast their ballot and will not be turned away.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and other groups dispute that. ACLU spokesman Daniel Zeno said Iowa’s current elections system works because of its combination of options like early voting and straight party voting. Early voting days would be reduced in the bill, and straight party voting would be eliminated.
“We don’t know what the problem is they’re trying to fix,” he said.
The ID requirement goes into effect in 2019, but voters will be subject to a soft-rollout before then. It will involve them signing a form at the polls acknowledging that they will soon need to show ID. Sen. Roby Smith, a Davenport Republican, said even after the ID requirement is implemented, there will be options for voters unaware of the changes, such as provisional voting.
He said the soft-rollout “will give people time to get used to the law.”
GOP lawmakers contend the ID requirement and other provisions in the wide-ranging elections bill will help maintain Iowa’s voter integrity. Elections officials in recent years have found almost no voter fraud in Iowa, but some confusion over legal changes has prompted some ineligible felons to cast ballots. A two-year state investigation into voter fraud that concluded in 2014 turned up no evidence of widespread problems.
The legislation would require people to show acceptable identification at the polls, which include an Iowa driver’s license, a state nonoperator’s ID, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military card or a veteran’s identification card. The state must provide a non-photo identification card to people who need it.
Mary Rae Bragg, president of the League of Women Voters of Iowa, said the elderly, students and minority groups may not have the right state ID to vote. The process for distributing the state ID card could be complicated by issues not addressed in the bill, she said, leading to voter suppression.
Another provision will reduce the early voting period before an election from 40 days to 29 days. It also requires poll workers to verify voters’ signatures before allowing them to vote. ACLU said that signature provision is particularly problematic because they believe it would be subjective on the part of poll workers.
Pate’s office intends to spend $50,000 for voter outreach efforts, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. A separate $150,000 may be considered to pay someone to help with outreach.
That’s not enough money, Bragg said, calling the $50,000 “a pathetic drop in the bucket.” She said voters will need to be retold several times up to election day about the changes.
The bill has also been criticized by Democrats, who argue the effort is particularly unnecessary amid constraints in the next state budget. GOP lawmakers have proposed adding $700,000 to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office to help implement the bill.
“It is expensive and unnecessary,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Cedar Falls Democrat. “That should be the overriding judgment of the bill.”