Pate's voter ID outreach is welcome; the law isn't

A machine shows 133 ballots cast as of 10:10 A.M. at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A machine shows 133 ballots cast as of 10:10 A.M. at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is embarking on a 99-county campaign to educate voters on the state’s new voter ID law. And although we remain wary of the new law’s implications, we applaud Pate’s efforts.

The new requirements, in our estimation, still seem more onerous than unnecessary. The voter fraud they seek to address is a vanishingly small problem in Iowa, and the type of fraud they actually would address is even less likely. Any fraud these regulations might discourage could pale in comparison with the number of legally registered voters discouraged from going to the polls.

That said, we appreciate Pate’s work to smooth the law’s sharp edges. His office has mailed 123,000 voter ID cards to eligible voters not listed on the state’s driver’s license list. The ID cards can be used at the polls, along with licenses, passports and military IDs. Voters without ID can vote after signing an oath swearing their identity, or if another voter attests to their identity.

These are provisions that make Iowa’s ID law far more palatable than a swarm of laws pushed by Republicans in other states, with the unmistakable intent of driving down turnout among minority and low-income voters who tend to cast ballots for Democrats. A number of these laws have been tossed by courts.

Pate’s “Voter Ready” outreach effort is another welcome difference. Pate will be explaining new voting rules with the help of an educational tool kit put together by the League of Women Voters, NAACP, AARP, the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, the League of Latin American Citizens, political parties, auditors, college students and other stakeholders. Pate deserves considerable credit for reaching out to these affected groups.

Outreach is laudable and valuable. But we also will be watching closely this election year to see if these efforts actually blunt potential negative consequences of the law, or whether good intentions aren’t enough to erase all the possible problems inflicted by a bad law.

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