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Government

Iowa's high mark for voting ease comes with warning

Researcher says voter ID law could lower ranking

Paul Pate

Secretary of state
Paul Pate Secretary of state
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Iowa ranks fifth among the states for the “cost” of voting, but the political science professor who did the research is putting an asterisk on that top-tier rating.

“Iowa is almost certainly going to drop in the ranking” because of the change in the state’s voter ID law “that will increase the cost of voting in terms of time and energy,” Scot Schraufnagel of Northern Illinois University said Tuesday.

Schraufnagel and his fellow researcher created a “Cost of Voting Index” — using what is described in the study as “the largest assemblage of state election laws” — to rank each state according to the time and effort it took to vote in each presidential election year from 1996 through 2016.

Oregon took top honors for making it easy for voters in 2016, followed by Colorado, California, North Dakota and Iowa.

Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Texas were the most inconvenient states for voting, Schraufnagel said.

Although Schraufnagel believes voter ID laws, especially those requiring a photo, will make it harder to vote, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate believes the requirement is a positive change supported by Iowans.

“I’ve said all along that I want to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat, and this study confirms those efforts have been successful,” Pate said Tuesday. “Reforms I instituted such as online voter registration and Safe at Home opened new avenues for people to register to vote.”

His Democratic challenger, Deidre DeJear, however, was less impressed.

“It’s great that we’re ranked fifth, but we’ve had some changes since 2016, so I don’t know if the ranking reflects the current reality,” she said. “I don’t even know if it’s relevant. The ranking doesn’t mean anything. The proof is not in the ranking but in the turnout.”

The new law is causing confusion, DeJear said, and Pate isn’t doing enough to educate voters.

Pate cited the Iowa Poll that found 69 percent of Iowans support the voter ID law, and 92 percent believe it won’t prevent them from voting.

“We’re one of the top states in the country for voting registration and voter participation,” he said. “Voter participation and election integrity are not mutually exclusive. They go together.”

Census and voter registration data show that about 89 percent of Iowans 18 or older are registered to vote. Turnout in 2016 was 72 percent, according to Pate’s office.

Based on his research and 20 years of studying election law, Schraufnagel believes that voter ID laws “are consequential.” He can’t say how that will affect participation in the 2018 election, “but as cost goes up, voting goes down. It’s a robust relationship.”

Voter ID laws are not the only things affecting voter participation, Schraufnagel said.

Competitive races, being a swing state, voter registration deadlines and early voting are other factors Schraufnagel looked at. Iowa has Election Day registration, but has shortened the early voting period from 40 to 29 days.

And forget about voter fraud, he said.

“Studies show voter fraud has never been widespread and is largely a figment of people’s imaginations,” Schraufnagel said. “There have been people who voted fraudulently, but the volume is so minimal that, if it has made a difference, it’s in some obscure relatively inconsequential election. Voter fraud is just not an important issue.”

For more on his research, visit https://newsroom.niu.edu/2018/09/25/new-study-scrutinizes-time-and-effort-it-takes-to-vote-in-each-state/.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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