Tuesday’s election marked the first time Iowa’s voter ID law went into effect. The point of the law was to protect against voter fraud, a virtually non-existent problem in Iowa and nationwide. Nevertheless, our elected officials pushed to pass the law in 2017 and the majority of the bill withstood a court challenge.
The parts of the law struck down by Judge Joseph Seidlin were a provision that would have prohibited election officials from issuing a voter ID card based on Iowa driver’s license or nonoperator’s identification card records and a provision that gave election officials the ability to dispute a signature on a registered voter’s application.
But the majority of the law stood and Tuesday was the first election that saw its full implementation.
Historically, voter ID laws like Iowa’s single out low-income, immigrant, disabled and aging populations. And Iowa’s has already proven to be an impediment to university students without IDs. In advance of the election, the University of Iowa created temporary identification cards for students that would meet the voter ID law and allow them to vote as long as they also had proof of residency.
Creating barriers to access for the non-existent voter fraud problems only further works to discourage participation in the democratic process. And Iowa has done just that. While voter turnout is usually low for city council and school board elections, this year saw low levels of turnout in both Linn and Johnson Counties.
In Linn County, voter turnout was just at 12.48 percent. In 2017, which was the last year Linn County had a city-only election, voter turnout was over 20 percent. In fact, according to the Linn County Auditor’s data, 2019 is the lowest year for voter turnout in a city-only election. Previous decades have seen voter turnout in city races hover around 20 and 30 percent.
In Johnson County, just over 14 percent of registered voters voted in this election. Compared to the 14 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in 2015. The statewide turnout was 16.58 percent of the 2,149,797 Iowans who were eligible to vote.
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Rebecca Stonawski, Deputy Commissioner of Elections at the Linn County Auditor’s Office told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that while the office received some complaints from people who had trouble with the law, for example, being reticent to share personal information, election officials were able to work with them to answer their individual concerns. Stonawski says that while understanding low turnout is difficult, she pointed to the fact that this election had no mayoral race or controversial bond issues.
Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said he heard of a lot of people complaining about the laws, but that he didn’t know of anyone who was turned away from voting. Weipert explained that comparing voter turnout in this election is difficult, because it was the first combined city and school election. Weipert explains, “Voter turnout was down overall, but that maybe because there weren’t controversial issues on the ballot.”
Weipert describes the voters in city and school board elections as “hard-core,” who rarely miss an election, who are already familiar with voter registration. So the full effects of the voter ID laws remain to be seen.
But if furthering the cause of democracy is the goal, the voter ID laws are not getting us there any quicker.
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