POLITICS
05/05/2017 10:08 am ET Updated May 05, 2017

Iowa Republicans Just Made It Harder To Vote -- For No Reason

There's no evidence a voter ID requirement was needed.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signed into law Friday a measure that will require voters to present identification at polling places, making Iowa the 35th state to adopt some kind of identification requirement.

The measure was introduced by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) just months after he said that the 2016 election in Iowa was “fair” and “clean.” There’s no evidence of widespread fraud nationally or in the state, which had one of the highest voter turnouts last year. However, Pate and Republicans sold the measure as necessary to ensure the integrity of future elections and prevent fraud. 

The law was opposed by the state’s association of county auditors. Critics of voter ID laws argue that they disproportionately make it more difficult for low-income, elderly and African-American voters to cast ballots. Pate and other supporters of the law argued that their bill wouldn’t disenfranchise anyone because the state would provide free identification cards to any eligible voter who lacked one.

But even in states where officials have provided free voter ID, voters have had difficulty casting a ballot because of poor education and training. In Texas, for example, officials failed to provide translators and adequate information about free voting IDs that were available. They also required those applying for them to be fingerprinted, which may have scared off some people from voting. In Kansas, officials were poorly trained about a photo ID law and attempted to charge some of those who applied for free identification.

Pate’s office said it would cost $1 million to completely implement the law, but he wouldn’t request additional funds for voter outreach or education because his office already had funds to pay for those things. In Texas, where the state allocated $2 million for outreach, education about the law was extremely poor, according to ProPublica.

There is no evidence that widespread voter fraud is a problem. From 2000 until 2014, there were just 31 credible incidences of voter impersonation ― the kind of voter fraud that voter ID laws would prevent, according to Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. In North Carolina, an audit of the 2016 election found just one case of in-person voter impersonation at the polls out of 4.8 million votes cast. Prosecutors in the case declined to bring charges.

In a statement, Jason Kander, the former Democratic Missouri secretary of state, accused Pate of lying about voter fraud in his state to create the perception that a voter ID bill was necessary.

“Governor Branstad today decided that winning elections for his party is more important than Iowans’ voting rights,” said Kander, who now leads Let America Vote, a group that works to improve voting access. “Secretary of State Paul Pate has a history of making up facts to scare Iowans into thinking that wide-spread voter fraud is happening in the state when it is not. His solution to the made-up problem could cost millions in taxpayer dollars, create confusion at the polls and make it harder for hundreds of thousands of Iowans to vote. Suppressing voters under the guise of improving elections is a betrayal of trust to the Iowans that Governor Branstad and Secretary Pate are supposed to represent, and they have to be held accountable.”

The bill will also eliminate an option for voters to check a box for straight-party voting, provide funds for counties to buy digital poll books and establish postelection audits.

The Iowa law will go into effect in 2019.

This article was updated with a statement from Jason Kander.

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