Iowa GOP Uses Voter Fraud Myth to Advance Voter ID Bill

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Iowa GOP Uses Voter Fraud Myth to Advance Voter ID Bill

Michelle D. Anderson

Veronica Fowler, spokesperson for the ACLU of Iowa, said in an email that the Republicans' discriminatory voter ID bill constitutes voter suppression.

Republican lawmakers in Iowa are the latest to push a discriminatory voter ID bill after seizing control of both legislative chambers in 2016, as Democrats lost control of the state senate.

An Iowa house committee Monday recommended the legislature pass the “Election Integrity Act” measure, which would require voters to present a government-issued identification before casting a vote.

House Study Bill 93 would require many other election-related changes, including the establishment of post-election audits, electronic poll books at every Iowa precinct, and would require voter verification at polling locations, including signature verification. A Senate subcommittee on Wednesday approved moving SSB 1163, the Senate version of the bill, to the GOP-controlled Senate State Government Committee.

Iowa election officials last month learned that ten votes out of the 1.6 million cast last year might have been invalid, according to an Associated Press report.

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Other provisions of the so-called Election Integrity Act would include a requirement that the Secretary of State’s office compare newly registered voters against a list of residents who possess a driver’s license or non-operator ID. Citizens who register but who lack state-issued ID would receive a free ID card that would function as a voter registration card and a qualifying voter ID card.

Under the proposed legislation, student ID cards would be considered invalid, but military or veteran ID cards would be accepted.

Amendments proposed to the far-reaching bill by Rep. Ken Rizer (R-Marion), would also eliminate straight-party voting and alter poll closure times to 8 p.m.—an hour earlier than the current state primary and general closure times, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Rizer’s recommendations also aim to reduce early voting in primary and general elections from 40 days to 29 days.

The bill’s author and Iowa’s Commissioner of Elections Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), has declined to say whether he supported Rizer’s changes, the AP reported.

Veronica Fowler, spokesperson for the ACLU of Iowa, told Rewire in an email that the bill constituted voter suppression, and such efforts were hardly new.

“There is a long history of politicians trying to make it harder for those who are low-income, African-American, elderly, or disabled to vote because they are a demographic that is likely to vote for their opponents,” Fowler said.

Fowler said about 11 percent of adult Iowans, or about 260,000 eligible voters, don’t have a driver’s license or non-operator ID. Under the proposed bill, she said, these people would not receive a free ID because they’re not already registered to vote. She added that the number of ineligible voters becomes more stark when looking at the Black population. About 25 percent of Black voters nationally lack a government issued photo ID, Fowler said.

In Black Hawk County, Iowa, for example, Black residents make up “27 percent of voting-age residents who lack an Iowa driver’s license, but only 10 percent of all voting-age residents,” she said.

Pate said he proposed the bill because Iowa needs to protect the integrity of elections statewide.

The GOP charge of widespread, organized voter fraud has been repeatedly debunked as Republican legislators have tried to limit access to the ballot box. The Brennan Center for Justice has found that voter fraud incident rates were between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent when researchers reviewed elections where fraud had been suspected. The Brennan Center noted that, statistically, it’s more likely an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Pate has defended the voter ID legislation in a series of statements and social media posts since he announced the bill in January. In a guest editorial, he said the bill was not “a photo ID mandate” and that citizens would not be required to take a picture, submit additional documentation, or travel to a local DMV office.

The bill’s opponents include the ACLU of Iowa, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, the Iowa State Education Association, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, AARP Iowa, the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club, the Iowa State Association of Counties, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, according to public lobbying data.

Amy Campbell, who represented the AARP and the League of Women Voters, told Iowa lawmakers the measure could negatively affect people with disabilities, the Des Moines Register reported.

State Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) has also opposed the discriminatory voter ID measure, saying in a statement that it would disenfranchise many residents and make “election policy a partisan issue.”

Some have opposed the legislation because implementing the changes would drain $1 million from the state, which recently faced a $110 million budget shortfall, the Register reported.