What's up, Doc, with Iowa's voter fraud fight?

Politically driven push finds modest problems, offers a solution that doesn't solve them and ignores larger issue.

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I’m sure the pitched partisan battle over voting in Iowa makes perfect sense to pitched partisans. To me, it smacks of Looney Tunes.

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz has spent a pile of Help America Vote Act money to very, very loudly hunt for Iowans who’ve voted illegally. He’s found roughly two dozen people who unlawfully voted or registered to vote, including confused Canadians and a bunch of felons who may or may not have realized that their voting rights weren’t restored upon completing their sentences. Five cases resulted in guilty pleas and five were dismissed.

Up until 2011, under Gov. Tom Vilsack and Gov. Chet Culver, most felons who completed prison sentences were OK to vote, with rights restored automatically. But on the first day of Gov. Terry Branstad’s fifth term, he issued an executive order requiring felons to ask him for permission to have their rights restored.

Not surprisingly, Branstad has been stingy with that permission. An Associated Press analysis last month found that Branstad restored rights to 21 people in 2013, 17 in 2012 and two in 2011. Corrections officials said 25,000 offenders completed felony or aggravated misdemeanor sentences during that period.

So, basically, Branstad’s order has provided Schultz with cases of voter “fraud” to trumpet. An Iowa City Press-Citizen editorial put it well when it said Schultz is fishing “for his white whale in a stocked pond.”

And some Americans who should have been helped to vote were, instead, mistakenly disenfranchised. Three people in Cerro Gordo County had their votes wrongly tossed after showing up on a list of felons barred from voting. It seems the felon list is less than accurate. Schultz told lawmakers his office wasn’t to blame, that it simply acts as a “filing cabinet” for a list prepared by the courts.

So there’s some confusion out there. We could go back to automatic rights restoration, which would wipe out a lot of this “fraud” overnight. Branstad could clean this all up in a hurry with another stroke of his executive pen. Not likely. The governor relishes his role in making sure felons get the punishment they deserve, and then some. As for the rest of us, who can vote, we get the government we deserve. And that’s punishment enough.

There’s a bill in the Senate to bring back automatic restoration, but it has no chance in the Republican-controlled House. There, the preferred fraud-fighting weapon is a requirement that Iowans show a photo ID at the polls, even though none of the cases discovered by Schultz’s investigation involved impersonation. Sufferin’ succotash.

Maybe you’re thinking, why not combine restoration and photo identification into a bipartisan bill? And maybe you’d have no business being a state lawmaker. What you should be thinking is how you can parlay this drama into an electoral advantage for your side, and maybe a political payoff for yourself.

So we’re preparing to spend $240,000 in funds supposed to help voters to, instead, catch voters. Much of the modest problem that money uncovered could be solved by a simple return to a previous policy, but nobody seriously is considering that. And the policy change being portrayed as very serious, voter ID, would neither help nor catch voters.

See, makes perfect sense. And that’s all, folks.


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