Be careful when considering changes to election laws

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My thanks to The Gazette and Linda Waddington for thorough coverage with a Jan. 7 article and column about the new Voter ID requirement proposal by Secretary of State Paul Pate for the 2017 Legislature to consider.

Although it is impossible to know what form such legislation might take, this much can be said. First, the plan is far from simply a Voter ID proposal. It is instead a package of proposals with a title designed to win approval from the nearly three-fourth of those recently-polled Americans who like this idea. Second, if this package is, as Gov. Terry Branstad hopes, an effort to “modernize Iowa’s election laws,” then we’ll have to look for a new definition of “modernize.” My dictionary tells me “modernize” means “improve, renovate, streamline.”

Included in the proposal are changes that would be expensive to implement and maintain, and others that might impede, rather than streamline, the registration and voting processes. For example, for those Iowans who have neither driver’s licenses, passports nor military IDs, the Secretary has generously proposed to provide all other “eligible active voters” with a new, free ID card, and “ensure uniform, ongoing training for election staff and poll workers” that would have to be offered annually at an expense to the taxpayer. In all, the Voter ID package would cost $500,000 up front with an annual additional cost of $35,000, and this at a time when Iowa has a budget shortfall.

Other IDs would not be valid (including student IDs). Of the other suggested changes, only one has to do with verifying the voter is who s/he says s/he is: Poll workers would “verify signatures.” It’s hard to say how that might be done but chances are — with the implied emphasis on new technology — that the voter would need to sign a screen with a stylus or mouse.

I’ve worked quite a lot with people trying to sign their names in this way, and I can guarantee you that almost no one’s attempts ever even remotely resembles their signatures on paper. The rest of the proposals have nothing to do with Voter ID and everything to do with narrowing voters’ opportunities to canvass for voter registration and then return forms to an auditor’s office or to vote absentee.

The League of Women Voters at all levels — national, state and local — opposes Voter ID laws. Obtaining IDs in many states involves time, effort, and, yes, in many cases, money. Voter ID laws can be as effective at eliminating otherwise eligible voters as purges or poll taxes. In states with such laws, people without birth certificates (lost, stolen, never given) will find the process so unpleasant that they give up, even though it may be clear that they are citizens and should consequently be eligible to vote.

When states pass such laws, they are challenged in court, and as they inch upward in the appeal process with judges condemning, then approving them, the electorate in the state becomes increasingly angry, confused and afraid. Voting is the foundation of any democracy. States who want to foster democracy promote voting for all citizens, aged 18 and older; they do not discourage it, or try to ensure that only the “right” people vote.

Since the integrity of Iowa’s elections was ranked second in the nation during the last election cycle, and because the Iowa Legislature is facing reducing its current budget, we suggest that the legislature save itself time and money, and set aside the idea of Voter ID for Iowa.

• Syndy Conger is President of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County

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