An overwhelming majority of Iowans, 69 percent, back voter ID, says a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Sunday. And with Secretary of State Paul Pate's version under construction in both legislative houses, things are looking good for Pate's campaign promise, as unwarranted as it might be.
With now-emboldened Republicans intent on ramming voter ID through, the opposition is left with two options: Die on the hill of righteous indignation or demand improvements that keep the damage to those most likely to be disenfranchised to a minimum.
Research has shown that voter ID laws are especially damaging to minorities, the elderly, students and the poor. They almost universally disenfranchise populations that tend to support Democrats.
More than 200,000 Iowans are without one of the forms of identification deemed acceptable under the draft measure, says ACLU of Iowa. To Pate's credit, even he has said that he would pull his support for the legislation if lawmakers refuse to fund his voter card provision, which would mail free identification cards to voters registered upon the bill's effective date. Pate has learned from the illegal missteps made in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, which clearly violated the Voting Rights Act.
But what about going forward? Surely, Pate's attempt to minimize the damage has an expiration date, since its based on pre-existing voter rolls. Once enacted, would-be new voters, who lack the necessary identification and are often trapped without a birth certificate, could find themselves blocked from voting booths. Proposed separate legation in the House bill, intoduced last week amid concerns about homeless voters, would permit certain election and party officials to vouch for residency. A technical correction should expand who is permitted to vouch for a would-be voter, to include case-workers at nonprofits, while encompassing all new residents who might have missed the registration deadline imposed by the bill's effective date.
An expansion of the types of accepted ID would help. College and university students have long been targeted for disenfranchisement by conservatives for political ends. There's little reason a student ID shouldn't be accepted. A large percentage of student IDs in Iowa are issued by an arm of state government, after all.
Consistent voter outreach is the greatest defense against the bill's most egregious pitfalls. Right now, there's no cash for a registration push. There's no cash for educating the public at the risk of longer lines and mass confusion. That's a significant concern when legislation is heading toward passage that shortens the time to request an absentee ballot and overhauls identification technology, such as signature matching.
If Republicans in Des Moines are so hell-bent on passing voter ID, they can at least cough up continuing funding that contains the damage.
On its face, voter ID is indefensible. In Iowa, there's no evidence of statistically significant fraud. And that's after a few partisans have blown through taxpayer cash trying to find it. Pate, under substantial pushback, has shifted his narrative, now calling the measure voting "integrity." Yet that still doesn't answer the primary question: Why?
This boogeyman simply doesn't exist.
But one way or another, Republicans in the Statehouse seem intent on passing some version of it. Unlike last week's collective bargaining debate, they're taking seriously the concerns of Democrats and legal advocates, evidenced by the proposed amendment about homelessness.
And that's a good thing. After all, minimizing the harm is the very least they can do.