The Voter Integrity Act under consideration by Iowa lawmakers addresses a non-existent problem, voter impersonation, and restricts the time frame for requesting absentee ballots. The result will be longer lines on election day, more inconvenience for voters and preventing some voters from casting ballots. While the act contains some good provisions, it ignores real problems in the voter registration system.
The centerpiece of the act is the requirement for voters to prove identity at polling places to prevent in-person voter impersonation fraud. It is possible to impersonate a voter, but examples are very rare. There have been no cases reported in Scott County. Other Iowa auditors tell me there have been no cases in their counties. In the past 10 years, we are aware of a few cases in other states out of the many millions of votes cast over that time.
The act requires voters to present certain government issued picture IDs or a previously signed voter registration card. Precinct election officials are required to examine each ID to insure that the person offering to vote is the same as the person depicted by the ID and resides at the address in the voter roster.
My staff has measured the time it takes to verify identity and residency, and found that it will take more than 30 seconds to process the average voter. Currently, it takes about 10 seconds..
Straight-party voting would also be eliminated. Voters will mark up to 16 choices for partisan offices instead of one. In Scott County, an average of 37 percent of people voted straight-party in the last four general elections. Ending straight-party voting will result in longer average times to fill out a ballot.
These longer processing and voting times will mean longer lines during the high volume voting times. Right now, our average longest wait times are about 20 minutes. We can expect average longest wait times to increase significantly, probably to more than an hour.
The act limits when voters can request absentee ballots by mail to no later than 10 days before an election. Currently, the restriction is the Friday before an election. This restriction does not account for why people request absentee ballots, such as work assignments, caring for out of town relatives or being unable to go to a polling place due to illness or injury. Do we really want to deny ballots to people who cannot go to a polling place as they convalesce at home after surgery?
Some provisions of the act are good, such as requiring voters to include verification numbers on absentee ballot requests, or making it illegal to remove ballots from an early voting location. These provisions increase election security without unduly burdening voters. Other provisions, such as adding the veteran ID card for identification, expand voter options without sacrificing security.
But the act does not address problems identified in the voter registration system. Iowa driver’s licenses do not identify individuals who are not U.S. citizens. Other states make this distinction. We found several non-citizens registered to vote by the state Department of Transportation. The act does not require checking the juror excuse list for non-citizens, although it does require cancellation of registrations for voters whose names appear on the list, whether by mistake or not. In Scott County, we check this list periodically, and found that some people are on it erroneously. It would be better to require hearings for voters whose names appear on this list at which errors can be cleared up before cancelling a citizen’s right to vote.
The act allows auditors to question the signatures of voters on absentee ballot requests by comparing the signatures of voters on record. However, it does not address that thousands of voters do not have signatures on record if they registered before the early 1970s or registered at DOT when obtaining driver’s licenses or non-operator ID cards.
The best line of defense against fraud is an accurate and complete voter registration file. Unfortunately, this bill ignores real problems with the registration system in pursuit of ephemeral voter impersonation.