A Washington County woman was wrongly denied the right to vote this week when she arrived at a polling place without an identification card.
Susan McClellen of Wellman was trying to vote Tuesday in a special school board election in the Mid-Prairie Community School District when she was denied a ballot, even though Iowa’s new voter identification law is not fully in effect.
“Yesterday was just a school board election,” McClellen told The Gazette on Wednesday. “My worry was how many people they turned away. I did not want this to happen in the fall elections.”
While Iowa is in the process of phasing in the voter ID law passed in 2017, voters without an approved ID are supposed to be allowed yet this year to cast a regular ballot by signing an oath of identification or cast a provisional ballot.
Denying a voter those options “is a serious mistake,” said Kevin Hall, communications director for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.
“A provisional ballot is a fail-safe process which has been in use for years to protect each voter in the event that a mistake is made at the polls,” Hall said in a statement. “ … No eligible voter should be turned away from the polls.”
McClellen contacted the Washington County Auditor’s Office the morning after the election to report her experience and said she received an apology.
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In an interview with The Gazette, Washington County Elections Administrator Sue Meeks said McClellen was the only person who complained of disenfranchisement and that her vote denial was “a matter of miscommunication.”
“There have been so many changes,” Meeks said, referring to Iowa’s voting law. “The ladies (poll workers) do a wonderful job, and I don’t want to throw them under the bus by any means. It’s a lot for them to remember.”
It was “unfortunate,” Meeks said, that the poll worker who interacted with McClellen “wasn’t thinking about” a one-year-only rule that allows voters without an ID to vote anyway.
Unofficial school board election results show 347 people voted in the special election, with Emily Uhl elected over Randy Billups by a margin of 100 votes.
Confusion about voting laws has some local election officials worried about a drop in turnout.
After nearly a decade working in the Washington County Auditor’s Office, Meeks said this year’s elections have been more complicated “with all the new rules and new equipment.”
Poll workers will receive more training before November elections, Meeks said, as the auditor’s office typically hosts additional trainings ahead of primary and general elections.
Hall said training materials issued to all 99 county auditors instruct officials to offer an oath to preregistered voters who show up without identification throughout 2018, as does a poster that should be displayed in every precinct.
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“We have communicated with the Washington County Auditor’s Office and will work with them to reinforce the training of their precinct officials about both of these important protections for voters,” Hall said.
An ongoing lawsuit has sought to block parts of the voter ID law before the November midterm elections. The suit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, has at least for now impacted some of its provisions — including how the state processes absentee ballots — but not its ID requirement at the polls, which takes effect in 2019.
In a statement last month, Pate said his office had worked with organizations across Iowa “to inform all Iowans about the provisions of this new law.”
“The plaintiffs have not shown a single Iowan has been disenfranchised by this bill,” Pate said in July about the lawsuit.