Pate proposes changes to bolster Iowa election integrity
BY ROD BOSHART
Gazette Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES – Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate on Wednesday proposed a $1 million upgrade to the state’s election system to guard against fraud by using electronic poll books statewide and requiring voter or signature verification at polling places and for absentee ballots.
Pate said he has shared a draft of his proposed election integrity legislation with majority GOP leaders with favorable responses, but he noted that the upgrade probably would not be in place until the 2020 election unless lawmakers put the changes on a fast track to be in place by 2018.
“As I have stated many times, protecting the integrity of our election system is my top priority and this legislation will help to do that,” Pate told a Statehouse news conference. “I want to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”
Pate proposes that voter identification – including existing Iowa driver’s licenses, passports and military IDs – be required and signatures be verified at polling sites. Eligible voters, out-of-state students and others who lack approved identification would be issued free ID cards with ID numbers by election officials, he noted. A registration ID number would be required for all voters requesting absentee ballots.
“If you don’t have an ID, we will send you a new voter registration card to use at the polls,” Pate said. “This bill streamlines the system to make checking in easier and quicker. It will reduce waiting times at the polls, ensure every eligible Iowan is able to cast a ballot, and ensures their ballot will count.”
Utilizing electronic poll books, voters will scan their state-issued ID or voter registration card upon checking in at their polling place. Pate’s bill also establishes post-election audits to ensure public confidence with the electoral process.
The proposed legislation would cost $500,000 up front to create the voter identification cards and likely another $35,000 annually after the initial one-time start-up cost. Pate is seeking another $500,000 to establish a revolving fund to provide electronic poll books in all 99 counties. He said currently 72 counties have some form of electronic poll books.
Other features of Pate’s proposal would set the first date to request absentee ballots at 120 days prior to an election; create a deadline for proxies to return collected voter registration forms and absentee ballots to the county auditor’s office; require that county auditors certify their compliance to all state and federal laws and report all suspected instances of election misconduct with Pate’s office; and ensure uniform, ongoing training for election staff and poll workers.
Pate praised Iowa’s current voting system but said the changes he is seeking will continue to ensure the fairness of the election system statewide while increasing measures to enhance integrity.
“We are one of the top states in the nation for voter registration and voter participation,” he said. “This legislation will not have any negative impact on either of those. Instead, it will help instill confidence in our voting system and let every Iowan know that their vote counts.”
“Less than two months after praising the integrity of elections in Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate has released a partisan proposal that will suppress voter turnout across Iowa,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, chair of the Senate State Government Committee until next Monday. “Voter ID and other changes outlined today will disenfranchise older Iowans, younger Iowans and people of color.”
Danielson said state lawmakers and county auditors have worked to increase voter participation and election integrity in our state, but the changes proposed Thursday by the secretary of state would “turn back the clock by making election policy a partisan issue.”
Monica Biddix, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, issued a statement noting that “so-called election integrity” legislation in other states has included Voter ID laws and other initiatives that are only designed to suppress the vote of the elderly, minorities and those in poverty.
“Voter ID laws are intended to suppress the vote. Period,” Biddix said. “This is a new revelation for the Secretary of State’s office who bragged on the integrity of Iowa’s elections three months ago.”