Iowa’s secretary of state is calling for voter ID requirements despite any evidence that voter fraud is a problem in Iowa or across the country.
Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, said in a speech Thursday that all Iowa voters should be required to show identification when they vote. He also wants to implement a new deadline to return voter registration forms and absentee ballots to election officials. Kevin Hall, a Pate spokesman, did not immediately respond when asked whether this would shorten the absentee voting period in the state.
“As I have stated many times, protecting the integrity of our elections is my top priority and this legislation will help us do that,” Pate said in a statement. “I want to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat. If you don’t have an ID, we will send you a new voter registration card to use at the polls. 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.”
There’s no data indicating that Iowa needs tougher standards. Hall told The Huffington Post last month that his office didn’t have hard data on election fraud from previous years, but studies have shown that election fraud across the country is extremely rare. A New York Times survey of every state found that there were zero allegations of voter fraud in 26 states after the 2016 election and just one claim each in an additional eight states.
The proposal comes after Republicans gained control of the Iowa Legislature for the first time in nearly two decades. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said on Tuesday that it “makes sense” to look at a voter ID law.
Pate said Thursday that he had already had positive conversations with lawmakers about the proposed changes, according to The Des Moines Register.
Critics argue that voter ID laws provide an unnecessary hurdle to voting and disproportionately affect low-income and minority voters. Federal courts struck down voter ID laws in Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina last year.
“Strict photo ID laws can be a roadblock for many eligible voters trying to make their voices heard at the polls,” said Jennifer Clark, a counsel in the Democracy Program at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, in an email. “The law in Texas, for example, was struck down this summer, but if it stood, there would have been an estimated 600,000 citizens who didn’t have one of the IDs required under the law. Those most affected by these laws are students, elderly voters, and Black and Latino Americans. If states are concerned about election integrity, they should instead focus on updating their election infrastructure and modernizing voter registration.”
Pate doubted that an Iowa voter ID law would affect turnout.
“We are one of the top states in the nation for voter registration and voter participation. 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,” he said in the statement.
Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, a nonprofit citizens advocacy group, questioned why Pate was seeking the new restrictions if he himself had acknowledged there wasn’t anything suspicious in the state’s elections.
“As a number of courts recently held, including the 5th Circuit ― arguably the most conservative court in the land ― strict photo ID bills like the one he proposes (it refuses use of student IDs) are discriminatory, could prevent hundreds of thousands within the state from voting, and are solutions to problems that don’t exist,” she said in an email.
“The Secretary himself said voting in the state is ‘clean.’ So why tack on this new burden? The only reason to introduce this legislation is to keep some people ― low-income Americans who are often people of color, students, elderly, or disabled ― from the polling places.”