Iowa voter ID election bill spurs long debate at Statehouse

The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazett
The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers are moving toward joining 34 other states with laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification before casting a ballot.

The Iowa House spent the Wednesday afternoon and evening talking about House File 516, a Republican proposal that would make several changes to election administration, including voter registration, absentee voting, eliminating straight-ticket voting, conducting post-election audits and requiring voters to present an ID to participate in an election.

Iowa already is one of the top states in conducting elections, floor manager Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids, said in his opening remarks.

“The Election Modernization and Integrity Act will make us the best, improving voter satisfaction, confidence and security while ensuring access,” Rizer said.

HF 516, formerly House Study Bill 93, calls for implementing the use of e-pollbooks with bar scanners and laptops at polling places to make voting as easy as using the express lane at a supermarket, Rizer said.

It also calls for election audit and reporting procedures that “prevents mistakes, ensures every vote is counted and hold those who might cheat the system accountable.”

A companion bill, Senate File 474, has cleared the State Government Committee and is eligible for debate Thursday. Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said the Senate is in a few weeks away from debating elections legislation. It either will draft amendments to SF 474 or use a House-passed version as a starting point for debate.


If HF 516 is approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Terry Branstad, Iowa would be the 35th state to request or require voters to show some form of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It is nearly evenly split between those that ask for a photo ID and those that accept non-photo IDS. The remainder use other methods to identify voters, such as comparing signatures to information on file.

Iowans would use driver’s licenses as the primary voter ID. Also acceptable would be the state-issued voter registration card, military and veteran IDs, passports and Department of Transportation non-operator’s IDs. A voter without any of those forms of identification could have an eligible voter vouch for them at the polls.

Much of the debate centered on House Democrats’ argument that voter fraud is, as Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said, “vanishingly rare.”

“Certainly nowhere near the numbers necessary to have an effect on any election,” said Nielsen.

With the exception of Rizer and one other Republican, only Democrats spoke during the first six hours of debate on two of about two dozen Democratic amendments.

Much of that time was spent talking about the bill’s requirement that a voter show an ID before casting a ballot. That’s necessary, Rizer said, to ensure that “all voters meet constitutional requirements without imposing any undue burden” and to increase confidence in the election process.

“Voter ID is a common-sense reform that makes it easier to vote, harder to cheat and nobody is turned away,” he said.

That’s “organized disenfranchisement” of minorities, the disabled and elderly, according to Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, who said Iowans in those groups are less likely than others to have driver’s licenses, the preferred form of voter ID.


In an amendment with language that matched an American Civil Liberties Union factsheet on voting legislation, Smith sought to replace most of the bill with legislative “findings,” he called the voter ID requirement unnecessary.

“There are zero documented instances of voter impersonation fraud in Iowa, the type of fraud voter identification laws seek to prevent,” Smith said.

After two hours of debate, Smith’s amendment was ruled not germane to the bill.

According to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, the fiscal impact of the bill would be about $200,000 for the IVoters program, education and outreach, and initial voter registration cards.

In addition, there would be costs to counties. Some of the expenses, such as e-pollbooks, which cost about $875 a piece, could be paid with money from a state revolving loan fund created by the bill. However, no appropriation is included.

Throughout the debate, some Democratic lawmakers posted their colleagues’ comments on social media. At times nearly half of the 100 representatives were not present. If they were in the chamber, members of both parties attended to email, weekly newsletters and other matters.

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