I get it: Voter ID sounds reasonable. After all, we show ID to buy beer. And who doesn’t have a driver’s license? It seems like a common sense way to prevent voter fraud. This is why nearly 70 percent of Iowans polled by The Des Moines Register agreed that Iowans should show a government-issued ID when they vote.
But it’s not that simple. Here is what Iowans don’t know about Iowa’s voting procedures and the proposed Voter ID law.
First — We already have a sound process for making sure voters are who they say they are. The Secretary of State’s office verifies the identity and address of each voter when they register to vote. Then, voters sign an affidavit confirming their identity when they vote. Providing false information on your affidavit is against the law.
Second — Our system works very well. We have no voter fraud to prevent. The argument I hear from Republican legislators is that we need Voter ID because we do not know if voter fraud is occurring. They are choosing to disregard the evidence.
The most authoritative study on the subject, The Truth About Voter Fraud, was published in 2007 by the Brennan Center for Justice. It found that most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually the result of clerical error or poor data management practices. The report concluded that voter impersonation occurs in approximately 0.0025 percent of votes cast in the United States.
Closer to home, former Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz spent $250,000 looking for evidence of voter fraud in Iowa. His two-year study found only 117 cases (0.0084 percent) of election misconduct. Since none of them involved voter impersonation at the polls, Voter ID would not have prevented any of the problems he uncovered. In the 2016 election, Secretary of State Paul Pate said he was aware of 10 improper votes out of 1.6 million cast.
Third — Many Iowans don’t have a driver’s license. In fact, an estimated 5-11 percent of Iowa’s eligible voters do not have an ID. Most significantly, those without ID are unevenly dispersed throughout the population — they are disproportionately likely to be elderly, low income, and racial minorities. Nearly 15 percent of Iowans over the age of 65 do not have a driver’s license, which is why AARP is opposing this bill. In Black Hawk County, as one example, African Americans make up 10 percent of potential voters, but comprise 27 percent of voting age residents without an ID, which is why the NAACP is opposing this bill. The Iowa Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs has spoken out against the bill as well, noting that many immigrants do not have an Iowa driver’s license.
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Voter ID also will create a barrier for students, many of whom are from other states. Neither their out-of-state driver’s licenses nor their student IDs will not be accepted as valid ID at the polls.
Fourth — Evidence shows that Voter ID laws suppress voter turnout. A comprehensive study by three researchers at the University of California-San Diego analyzed certified votes across states that had implemented voter ID laws and found a negative impact on turnout among Latinos, African Americans, and mixed-race Americans. A 2014 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that voter turnout lowered between 2-3 percent in two states after they passed Voter ID laws.
Fifth — Over the past five years, Voter ID laws have been found to be racially discriminatory by federal judges in Washington, D.C., Texas, and North Carolina.
Sixth — Defenders of the new Voter ID bill note that those without ID will be issued a Voting ID card to present at the polls. But this will just create new problems. Will the voter know what the card is when it arrives in the mail? Will the voter keep the card for future voting? How will the card be replaced if lost? What if the voter doesn’t realize the card was lost until they go to vote, and can’t find it? Furthermore, the burden of issuing these cards will go to the counties. Do they have systems in place to handle this? How much will they cost? The Linn County Board of Supervisors has already warned that a tax increase will be necessary to pay for this bill.
Seventh — The Republican bill goes far beyond requiring photo ID. It includes provisions that are inconvenient at best and forms of voter suppression at worst, including:
• Eliminating straight-party voting
• Requiring poll workers to verify voters’ signatures before allowing them to vote
• Cutting off voter registration 10 days before an election
• Forcing same day registration voters to vote provisionally if their precinct does not have electronic poll books
Eighth — The vast majority of Iowa’s county auditors, both Democrats and Republicans, oppose Voter ID. The elected officials who administer our elections would like to update voter registration records and databases, which they believe would be the best investment we could make in improving Iowa’s voting process. Why is the legislature not listening to them?
And lastly — Voting is not like buying beer. It is a constitutionally protected right. March 15 marks the 52nd anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act — a milestone that was supposed to protect voting rights for all U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, the recent proliferation of Voter ID laws is eroding that protection. Shame on the Republicans in the Iowa Legislature for introducing this discriminatory legislation in our state. It is unworthy of Iowa, which, until now, has been a pioneer in advancing voting rights and enhancing voters’ access to the ballot.
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The Voter ID bill is a slap in the face to Iowa’s voters. Despite all the evidence showing that Iowa’s voters have conducted themselves with integrity, Republican legislators seem to believe that Iowans are dishonest. And this bill is meant to punish us by making it harder to vote for some, and impossible for others.
Over the past 10 years, I have registered and filled out absentee ballot requests for hundreds of voters in Johnson County. I am dismayed to see the complex and restrictive guidelines that will now govern this process. Those of us who do this work know the difficult circumstances that constrain many voters. We are well aware that additional restrictions will leave many people out of the process. The Republican mantra that “no eligible voter will be denied the vote,” is simply not true.
Last fall, I was proud when Secretary of State Paul Pate vigorously defended the integrity of Iowa’s voting process in response to then-candidate Donald Trump’s allegations that the U.S. voting system is rigged. “An examination of Iowa’s election process shows a good record of protecting the integrity of a voting system that is one of the cleanest in the country,” Pate told The Des Moines Register. Today, I am disheartened that Iowa is abandoning the practices that have earned high marks from independent elections analysts, and rushing to join states that have enacted measures that exclude voters.
Do we want to ensure the integrity of Iowa’s elections — of course we do! But given the evidence showing that we already have secure and fair elections, the real question is: Should we enact unnecessary government regulations that narrow Iowans’ opportunities for voting? And that answer to that, I hope we all agree, is no.
• Sharon Lake lives on the east side of Iowa City, where she works at the grass roots level to register and turn out voters for elections.