While Iowa law enforcement agencies have investigated hundreds of potential cases of election misconduct, only 23 people were convicted in the last five years, according to state data.
Of the 23 convictions from 2012 through 2016, 15 were for felony charges of election misconduct and eight were for misdemeanors, according to data extracted from the Judicial Branch’s Iowa Court Information System by the Criminal & Juvenile Justice division of the Iowa Department of Human Rights.
But it’s not the number of election misconduct cases that motivated Secretary of State Paul Pate to propose requiring voters to show a state-issued ID to cast ballots.
“This bill is about more than election fraud,” he said Friday. “It’s about integrity. It’s about the bad guys trying to mess with the system, it’s about some people trying to do some dumb things and it’s also about human error from our side of it.”
Just because the incidents of voter fraud are low doesn’t mean Iowa doesn’t have to increase its defenses against anyone purposely or accidentally compromising the system, he said.
“We have a relatively low crime rate in Iowa because we’ve done all the right things, but we still put locks on the doors of our home and lock our cars,” the former state senator and Cedar Rapids mayor said. “We don’t do that because we’ve been personally robbed, but because we’re doing the right thing, the smart thing to protect the things we value. That’s what we’re doing here.”
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Included in Pate’s proposal is a $1 million upgrade to the state’s election system including all counties using electronic poll books and requiring voter or signature verification at polling places and for absentee ballots.
There were another 55 disposed cases of election misconduct from 2012 to 2016, meaning the charges could have been dismissed or the defendants found not guilty.
This list does not include pending voter fraud charges, including those against a Des Moines woman accused of voting twice last fall.
Terri Lynn Rote, a registered Republican, is charged with first-degree election misconduct, a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $7,500. Her trial is scheduled for Feb. 6 in Polk County.
Former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who served from 2010 until 2014, when he unsuccessfully ran for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, spent $240,000 on a two-year voter fraud investigation.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, which started looking for potential election misconduct crimes in 2012, reported in February 2014 the agency had found evidence 117 illegal votes had been cast out of 238 investigations statewide. Alleged violations included felons and noncitizens voting, as well as people voting in more than one state, according to the report.
Schultz used funds provided under the federal Helping America Vote Act to finance the project, although Iowa’s former state auditor suggested may not have been appropriate.
Thirty-two states have voter ID laws, with other states attempting to verify voter identification through other methods, such as signature matches, according to a September report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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But confusion prevails about the laws, with 37 percent of voters living in states with no ID requirement thinking they will be asked to show identification before voting, according a survey from the Pew Research Center Sept. 27 to Oct. 10.
“In the states that do require or request identification, more than three-quarters of voters know it is needed,” Pew reported. “However, about 1-in-5 voters in these states do not know a photo ID is needed, which may result in inconvenience or could prevent them from voting at all.”
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James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.