Government

Pate lowers cost estimate for 'election integrity' law

'You ask if there's voter fraud in Iowa, how would we know?'

Stephen Mally/The Gazette

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate arrives in the Iowa House chamber Tuesday for the Condition of the State address at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Pate on Friday told The Gazette the cost of his voter ID law would be less than initially thought.
Stephen Mally/The Gazette Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate arrives in the Iowa House chamber Tuesday for the Condition of the State address at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Pate on Friday told The Gazette the cost of his voter ID law would be less than initially thought.
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The anticipated start-up costs for a new “election integrity” proposal in Iowa are under the $1 million initially projected, Secretary of State Paul Pate says.

The proposal would require, among other things, voter ID at the polls. It also calls for instituting electronic poll books in Iowa’s 99 counties, changing absentee ballot deadlines and establishing postelection audits.

But, Pate told The Gazette on Friday, the “only thing that has to happen this session to make this a meaningful piece of legislation is the ID card component.”

That component, which requires voter verification at polling places even for those already registered to vote, would cost less than originally thought, Pate said.

“The real cost to start this up are, I don’t believe, huge numbers — you’re talking $250,000 in a multibillion budget for the state,” Pate said. “I don’t think that’s going to devastate the budget.”

Cost revised

Pate said his office scaled back its original cost projections after cross-checking state databases for residents who don’t have driver’s licenses and thus, under the new law, would need a new “voter registration card to use at the polls.”

“We did another cross-match and found we have less people in Iowa who don’t have an ID,” he said. “We used to think it was 7 percent. As we cross-matched it with driver’s licenses, it went down dramatically — almost half.”

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The proposal’s voter ID requirement works best with electronic poll books that 70 Iowa counties are already using — although the e-polls are not necessary, he said. For registered voters who don’t have a license or other form of ID with an expiration date, the state would mail them a voter ID card without a photo.

All voters would receive pin numbers for use as verification — including for absentee ballots.

The process for registering at the polls on Election Day would remain unchanged — voters could bring any form of ID and proof of residence.

security worth it

Absentee problem

Pate said the benefit to Iowa and the security of its election system would be worth the cost associated with rolling out the ID requirement.

The law now, he said by way of example, doesn’t allow poll workers or auditors to challenge voter signatures.

That’s problematic, Pate said, adding, “It is for absentees for sure.”

Asked whether absentee voter fraud is a problem in Iowa, Pate said, “I’m concerned about it because we have no contact with the voter.”

“You ask if there’s voter fraud in Iowa, how would we know?”

Iowa ties for second in the nation in the Electoral Integrity Project, an independent academic project based at Harvard University and the University of Sydney.

But Pate said about 40 percent of Iowa’s voters cast absentee ballots, leaving a lot in question.

And, Pate asked, how much fraud are residents willing to accept?

“Is it one vote, 10 votes, 100, 200, 300, 500, 1,000?” he said. “The feedback I’ve received is one is too many.”

How much fraud?

Iowa’s Department of Public Safety has reported 27 cases of voter fraud. And in 2014, 43 Election Day registrations were left unresolved — meaning those votes were counted without verification.

For the November 2016 election, Pate said, his office received reports of more than 250 “bounce backs” — that is, unverified voters. He expects that number will go down as auditors confirm addresses.

And although the state has updated its felon voter database, Pate reported 41 felons who did not have their voting rights restored apparently cast ballots in the last election.

Students opposed

Student leaders at Iowa’s public universities say they’re concerned adding an extra ID hoop to jump through will further discourage the youth vote.

“We know firsthand how difficult it is to get students registered to vote already — with frequent address changes and being introduced to the electoral process for the first time — the last thing students need is another barrier to participation,” according to a letter the student body presidents from Iowa’s three public universities sent to the Pate’s office on Sunday.

University of Iowa Student Government President Rachel Zuckerman told The Gazette she’s since had a conversation with the Secretary of State’s Office and understands out-of-state students still could register at the polls or register beforehand and receive a voter ID.

But, she said, the proposed change complicates what already can be a confusing process for first-time voters.

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“With the national dialogue and the dialogue in the states surrounding voter ID, I think even if this isn’t as problematic as other proposal ... their proposal is kind of congested with that narrative,” Zuckerman said. “We’re afraid that it’s going to confuse students even further.”

Zuckerman also noted many students lose mail or don’t check for it — meaning those who register, are sent IDs but misplace them, or never receive them, would have to cast provisional ballots on Election Day.

“Now it’s these mental barriers,” she said. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind that they will suppress turnout — even if not intentionally.”

Pin numbers

Pate, a former Cedar Rapids mayor and state senator, said it’s not his intent to curb participation or disenfranchise voters. But, he said, students have to be accountable.

“There’s some responsibility here,” he said. “We are doing everything we can on this side to keep the barriers out of the way and invite people to vote, and also protect the system.”

Pate said asking people to use pin numbers to vote is no different from asking them to use an ATM card.

“What happens when a student loses an ATM card?” he said. “They go find it.”

Addressing the issue of voter ID rhetoric across the country and associated perceptions, Pate said, “This isn’t your father’s Buick.”

“This is not the old photo ID bill that everybody clings to,” he said.

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Adopting this initiative will advance Iowa’s voting system both in its security and technology, which Pate said hasn’t been upgraded in more than a decade.

“The technology is just so old, I am embarrassed — I really am,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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