Pate proposes voter ID, other changes to boost election integrity

Proposed upgrade to cost $1 million and be in place by 2020

(File Photo) Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (left) talks with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller after Pate voted on the
(File Photo) Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (left) talks with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller after Pate voted on the first day of early voting at the Linn County Community Services building in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. Due to displacement because of the flood evacuation early voting will continue at the Community Services building at 1240 26th Ave Ct SW through Friday. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate on Thursday proposed a $1 million upgrade to the state’s election system to guard against fraud by using electronic poll books statewide and requiring voter ID.

Pate said he has shared a draft of his proposed election integrity legislation with majority GOP leaders with favorable responses, but he noted the upgrade probably would not be in place until the 2020 election unless lawmakers put the changes on a fast track for 2018.

“As I have stated many times, protecting the integrity of our election system is my top priority and this legislation will help to do that,” Pate told a Statehouse news conference. “I want to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”

Iowa Democrats wondered Thursday why Pate was changing his tune after saying in October Iowa has one of the “cleanest, best election systems in the country.”

“Less than two months after praising the integrity of elections in Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate has released a partisan proposal that will suppress voter turnout across Iowa,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, chair of the Senate State Government Committee until next Monday. “Voter ID and other changes outlined today will disenfranchise older Iowans, younger Iowans and people of color.”

Thirty-two states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show ID at the polls, according to a September report from the National Conference of State Legislatures. The remaining states attempt to verify voters’ identification through other methods, such as matching information provided at the polling place, such as a signature, with information on file, the association reproted.

Pate proposes voter identification — including existing Iowa driver’s licenses, passports and military IDs — be required and signatures be verified at polling sites. Eligible voters, out-of-state students and others who lack approved identification would be issued free ID cards with ID numbers by election officials, he noted. A registration ID number would be required for all voters requesting absentee ballots.

“If you don’t have an ID, we will send you a new voter registration card to use at the polls,” Pate said. “This bill streamlines the system to make checking in easier and quicker. It will reduce waiting times at the polls, ensure every eligible Iowan is able to cast a ballot, and ensures their ballot will count.”

Utilizing electronic poll books, voters will scan their state-issued ID or voter registration card upon checking in at their polling place. Pate’s bill also establishes postelection audits to ensure public confidence with the electoral process.

The proposed legislation would cost $500,000 up front to create the voter identification cards and likely another $35,000 annually. Pate is seeking another $500,000 to establish a revolving fund to provide electronic poll books in all 99 counties. He said 72 counties have some form of electronic poll books now.

Other features of Pate’s proposal would set the first date to request absentee ballots at 120 days before an election; create a deadline for proxies to return collected voter registration forms and absentee ballots; require county auditors to certify compliance to all state and federal laws and report suspected election misconduct with the Pate’s office; and ensure uniform, ongoing training for election staff and poll workers.

Pate praised Iowa’s voting system but said the changes he is seeking will continue to ensure the fairness of the election system statewide while increasing measures to enhance integrity.

“We are one of the top states in the nation for voter registration and voter participation,” he said. “This legislation will not have any negative impact on either of those. Instead, it will help instill confidence in our voting system and let every Iowan know that their vote counts.”

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said the proposals appeared to be a fix for a system that isn’t broken and ranks among the top in the nation. He questioned whether overseers would be properly trained to verify signatures and the new requirements would contribute to long lines at polling places on Election Day. He also worried some of the costs would become an unfunded mandate for county officials.

Monica Biddix, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, issued a statement noting that “so-called election integrity” legislation in other states has included Voter ID laws and other initiatives that are only designed to suppress the vote of the elderly, minorities and those in poverty.

“Voter ID laws are intended to suppress the vote. Period,” Biddix said.

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