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Requiring ID to vote in Iowa can continue, judge rules

But order strikes down some provisions of 2017 elections law

A sign informs voters Nov. 6, 2018, at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids of the state Voter ID law passed in 2017 that requires approved forms of identification to be shown at the polls. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A sign informs voters Nov. 6, 2018, at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids of the state Voter ID law passed in 2017 that requires approved forms of identification to be shown at the polls. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Elections officials in Iowa can continue requiring voters to show identity cards at the polls, a judge has ruled, while also striking down as unconstitutional some portions of a 2017 law challenged by a Hispanic civil rights group and an Iowa State University student.

The law signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad requires voters to show certain forms of identification when voting at the polls, provide an identification number on absentee ballot applications and allows county auditors to reject ballots if they believe a voter’s signature doesn’t match those on file.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and ISU student Taylor Blair sued Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate in May 2018 challenging the law as unconstitutional, asserting it could suppress voting.

But Polk County District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin said in a ruling filed Monday that the state may require a voter ID at the polls.

“The evidence presented simply did not demonstrate that the burden on young voters, old voters, female voters, minority voters, poor voters and voters who are Democrats to show an approved form of identification at the polls is appreciably greater than the rest of the population,” he said.

LULAC argued that voters in those groups are less likely to have a driver’s license or state-issued ID card and therefore are less likely to have an approved ID to show at the polls.

Pate viewed Monday’s ruling as a victory.

“My goal has always been to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to fight to ensure Iowa has clean, fair elections statewide.”

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Many states are dealing with voter access issues. But the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law said in June that the vast majority of states changing voting laws this year intended to expand rather than restrict voting access.

Lawmakers in 45 states have been debating at least 647 bills to expand voting access, the center said. That’s compared with lawmakers in 28 states who have considered at least 82 bills to limit access.

In another win for Pate, the Polk County judge reversed his earlier order that said Pate cannot require a voter ID number on applications for absentee ballots.

A separate lawsuit has challenged a rule Pate initiated that says election officials cannot obtain missing absentee ballot application information from the state’s voter registration system and must contact a voter directly by mail, email, telephone or in person.

A judge has found that rule to be a wrong interpretation of the law and the case is on appeal.

Seidlin, however, did find troubling a provision that prohibited election officials from issuing a voter ID card to voters who already have a driver’s license or a state-issued ID.

“All eligible, registered voters should be able to ask for and receive a Voter ID Card from their county auditor so that every voter can cast a ballot as easily as every other voter,” Seidlin said.

He also struck down the signature match provisions, saying they violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the Iowa Constitution.

Like Pate, Latinos also claimed a victory in the ruling. There are about 170,000 Latinos in Iowa — about 53,000 registered to vote, “so we’ve seen attempts ... legislation passed at the state level to try to put barriers in front of our community to keep us from voting and to disenfranchise us,” said Nick Salazar, state director for LULAC.

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Joe Enrique Henry, president of LULAC Iowa Council 307, said the government ID rule upheld Tuesday by the court still poses problems.

“We will continue to educate our community what they need to provide when they go in to vote on Election Day,” Henry said.

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed.

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