Staff Columnist

Pate sides with rhetoric, not voters

Onus is on Secretary of State to protect Iowans' fundamental right to vote

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks at the State of Iowa's Security Operations Center in the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jun. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks at the State of Iowa's Security Operations Center in the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jun. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Faced with a temporary court injunction of laws and regulations he championed, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate chose to diminish voting rights.

Vowing to appeal the injunction to the state’s highest court, Pate tried to justify violations of due process and disenfranchisement by saying no one could prove it.

“The plaintiffs have not shown a single Iowan has been disenfranchised by this bill,” Pate said in a statement released by his office.

"The State argues it has compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its elections, deterring and eliminating voter fraud, and ensuring all elections are fair. The court agrees this is indeed a compelling government interest. However, the State has not even attempted to explain how reducing the time frame for voters to cast absentee ballots will ensure fairness or preserve the integrity of Iowa’s elections."

- Karen A. Romano, District Court Judge, Fifth Judicial District of Iowa

LULAC et al vs. Secretary of State Paul Pate, ruling on plaintiffs' motion for a temporary injunction, July 24, 2018

Officials in his office then tried to tell Iowa county auditors to ignore the court ruling.

If Pate had read the injuction issued in Polk County District Court, he might have better understood voting laws are to protect and preserve each individual’s right to vote. The bill he supported, that Iowa Republicans passed and signed into law, hasn’t made it “easy to vote and hard to cheat,” regardless of how many times he repeats the phrase. In addition, regulations and policies developed by his office have served only to further confuse and burden voters.

In more legal terms, the state is allowed to restrict or curtail fundamental rights, like voting, provided it can attest a compelling interest in doing so and can show restrictions implemented were narrowly crafted. In court, the state could muster no such defense.

“The State argues it has compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its elections, deterring and eliminating voter fraud, and ensuring all elections are fair. The court agrees this is indeed a compelling government interest. However, the State has not even attempted to explain how reducing the time frame for voters to cast absentee ballots will ensure fairness or preserve the integrity of Iowa’s elections,” reads the decision.

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A different provision of the law was misrepresented on voting forms developed by the Secretary of State. And regulations allowing local officials with no training to compare signatures on documents set an undue burden on voters, the court said, which “may entirely disenfranchise them.”

“Furthermore, refusing to allow voters whose absentee ballots are received at 5 p.m. on the Saturday preceding an election an opportunity to cure an alleged defect in their ballot not only substantially burdens their fundamental right to vote, it entirely eliminates it.”

The court added that more than 60,000 ballots cast in the 2016 general election were received after this deadline. “If county auditors have unbridled discretion to reject ballots based on signatures they find do not match, and considering these analyses will be done by county officials with no official guidance or handwriting expertise, there is potential for erroneous determinations of a mismatch.”

It comes back to the questions I and so many others asked in the lead-up and debate of the Voter ID law: Why make it more difficult for Iowans to vote when such restrictions aren’t addressing a proven or valid problem? Why pull resources from an already cash-strapped budget to implement unnecessary changes? Voting is a fundamental right, one that Pate is supposed to protect.

Despite what Pate says, the public isn’t on the hook to show disenfranchisement. Pate must prove his policies and decisions aren’t an undue burden on Iowans attempting to access a fundamental right.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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