Pate pushes upgrades for Iowa voting system

Pate wants to expand use of computer-based poll books to move voters through polling places, strengthen election security

Paul Pate, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, photographed Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Ma
Paul Pate, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, photographed Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Newly elected Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said Tuesday he is anxious to make changes that will improve the state’s voting system but he expects the upgrades will require money and new technology to achieve.

Pate, a former state senator who served as secretary of state from 1995-99 and defeated Democrat Brad Anderson in the Nov. 4 election, said he wants to expand use of computer-based poll books used in 66 counties to move voters through polling places more quickly and strengthen election security.

Under his plan, Pate — a former Marion mayor in line come January to succeed Secretary of State Matt Schultz, an incumbent Republican who did not seek re-election — would tie the voter registration data to the Iowa Department of Transportation driver’s license database which includes a bar code, photo and signature for additional verification.

“It won’t happen overnight, but it has to happen,” said Pate, who his ideas with about 30 Polk County Republicans at a breakfast meeting on Tuesday.

Pate said 93 percent of Iowans registered to vote have driver’s license. He said he hopes to seek funding to provide the other 7 percent with non-driver ID Cards. The secretary of state-elect said it will take money and enhanced technology to equip all 99 county auditors with electronic tablets, offer online voter registration, and provide electronic verification for absentee ballots and in the process eliminate absentee ballot couriers.

“We need to look at all options because tax dollars are tighter, voting trends are changing and technology has changed,” he said.

Pate said he expects to deliver a message to Washington that federal money for election reforms have dried up but the last round of upgrades took place over a decade ago and new advances are needed to keep pace with the demands of a system critical to democracy.

“This equipment is getting outdated, technology has changed and if they don’t want to talk about hanging chads and they don’t want to talk about close votes for president in 2016, then they’d better make sure there’s some money,” he said.

Although tabulating results of precinct caucuses is the responsibility of the political parties, not the Secretary of State’s office, Pate said he expected to have a conversation with Iowa GOP leaders about how to avoid a repeat of the party’s 2012 embarrassing debacle in providing timely, accurate caucus results.

Pate said his consultation with GOP officials would be that they need to “beef up their resources” and have more people armed with working cellphones engaged in compiling and tabulating results from around the state. He also said no one who endorses a 2016 presidential candidate should be involved in process of reporting the precinct results.