ADEL — Iowans who vote in the state’s June 5 primary election will be asked at the polls to show identification. It’s part of a soft rollout of the state’s new voter ID law, which goes into full effect next year.
Voters will be asked at the polls to produce one of the six acceptable forms of ID; those who do not have one will still be able to vote by signing an oath verifying their identity. But starting in 2019, those without proper identification will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot and must produce an accepted form of ID before the following Monday or the ballot will be not be counted.
The new law was approved in 2017 by then-Gov. Terry Branstad and the Republican-led Iowa Legislature after a partisan debate. Supporters said the law was needed to protect the integrity of the state’s elections and modernize its election system. Critics said the law adds an unnecessary layer to voting and could effectively suppress turnout by discouraging some people from voting.
“We want participation, but we want the integrity. They’re not mutually exclusive,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said this week at a Dallas County event where he offered an update on the law.
Iowa’s new voter ID law is not as strict as some attempted in other states. A key difference is Iowa’s law does not require photo identification.
Pate’s office has taken steps to mitigate some of the concerns raised by individuals and advocacy groups that some prospective voters would have a difficult time obtaining proper identification.
The Secretary of State’s office in December 2017 sent the new Iowa Voter ID Card to roughly 123,000 Iowans who were identified in state databases as not possessing a valid Iowa driver’s license. The cards were sent free of cost and without request. Those Iowans can use the state voter ID card to vote this year and in future elections.
State lawmakers this year added a provision that allows college students to submit electronic forms for proof of residence when registering to vote, including on Election Day. Critics raised concerns that Iowa students from out-of-state would have a difficult time obtaining the proper documentation in order to prove Iowa residence and vote here.
“We are always looking for ways to try to increase participation and make things more accessible,” Pate said. “Proof of residency is a challenge for a lot of college students.”
Samantha Bayne, a Drake University student originally from St. Louis, applauded the new provision and Pate’s office for working to help ensure Iowa college students are able to vote. Bayne is the state director for the national Campus Election Engagement Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates college students and leaders about elections and voter requirements.
“Anything that makes it easier to vote is something I’m in support of and something (the project) would be in support of,” Bayne said. “This was exciting for us, because getting (the proper residency documentation) printed out is difficult and costs money for students.”
Many remain unconvinced the change was necessary or think it will dampen voter turnout.
During a debate among the six Democratic candidates running for governor, each said they would support repealing it.
Let America Vote, a national voting rights advocacy group, has established a regional office in Iowa and plans to support and work to elect Iowa candidates who “oppose voter suppression laws like voter ID,” a spokesman for the organization said.
The group was founded by Jason Kander, a former Missouri Secretary of State. Kander also ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and is viewed by many as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.
“Iowa’s voter ID law is costing taxpayers money, it’s creating more government bureaucracy and it’s going to make Election Day a lot more confusing for both poll workers and voters,” Kander said in a statement emailed to the Des Moines Bureau. “Secretary Pate decided to put his political party before Iowans when he personally proposed the law last year in an effort to help him win in 2018. That’s why Let America Vote is working to defeat politicians like Secretary Pate in Iowa and to help elect pro-democracy candidates in November.”
Bayne said she and the Campus Election Engagement Project will watch the election closely to see how it impacts turnout.
“This is really a test drive to see if enough students and voters in general are aware of the law and can accurately show their IDs,” Bayne said. “I think it’s important to do some research after the election, comparing turnout, realizing there are other factors, but also talking to voters and poll workers and gauging their experience on Election Day.”
Pate said his office is confident it sent cards to most Iowans who did not previously have one of the new law’s six forms of required identification, and urged any who does not have one to contact their county auditor. And he gave assurance that no eligible voter would be prevented from doing so.
“Sadly, there was a lot of misinformation put out during the whole political side of it,” Pate said. “The one thing we cannot let happen is for public opinion to go to the point of saying we don’t trust the system, we don’t believe the voting is legitimate. Because that’s I think what some of our enemies would like to see. ...
“I do not want to get to a point where a voter would say, ‘That’s not my governor (or) that’s not my president because somebody was messing with the system.’ We cannot let that happen, and we won’t let that happen because we have a good combination of local, state and federal partners on this that we’re going to take it very seriously.
“It’s a security measure that you really want to embrace.”