Bare-knuckles partisanship is a running theme of the 2017 Iowa legislative session, so Thursday's party-line House vote to approve new voting restrictions was unremarkable. Nor was it surprising that Republicans cut off floor debate before members discussed most of the Democratic amendments to House File 516. Before last month, House leaders hadn't invoked the "time certain" procedural maneuver since March 2011. They've used it twice this year already: to destroy collective bargaining rights and now for the bill containing voter ID, signature verification, and other ways to make voting more difficult.
After listening to the March 6 public hearing and about half of the twelve hours House members debated the bill, I was struck by how Republicans stayed on the message we've heard from Secretary of State Paul Pate. No one will be unable to vote because of this bill, and everyone who needs a new voter ID card will get one for free.
At the hearing and on the Iowa House floor, numerous speakers offered specific examples of how the GOP proposal could prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot.
They might as well have been talking to a wall.
IGNORING REAL BARRIERS FOR AT-RISK GROUPS OF VOTERS
Pate's testimony at last week's public hearing was a condensed version of the "election integrity" sales pitch he's been making since early January. Yet again, he claimed that his proposal is designed to make it "easy to vote and hard to cheat." He promised, "No eligible voter will be denied their right to vote by this legislation," adding that he will "fight to ensure voters are not disenfranchised." Because registered voters lacking a photo ID will automatically be sent a new voter ID in the mail, Pate asserted, "Nothing in this legislation will prevent any eligible Iowan from voting."
State Representative Ken Rizer echoed those points as the floor manager of House File 516, adding a much-mocked tag line: voting with ID in Iowa will be "as easy as the Hy-Vee express lane." Other Republicans including State Representative Steve Holt rejected claims of bias, saying "everything in this bill applied to all Iowans equally."
Research has shown that certain groups of people are less likely to have photo ID, especially the elderly, people living in poverty, and racial minorities. Daniel Zeno of the ACLU of Iowa laid out some relevant statistics here:
In five Iowa counties, where almost 70 percent of African-American Iowans live, the rates of African Americans without a photo ID tracks that national number and is disproportionately high to the rates of white Iowans with a photo ID. Comparing data from the Iowa State Data Center and Commission on the Status of African-Americans with the Iowa DOT and U.S. Census, we know that in Black Hawk County, while African-Americans make up only 10 percent of voting age residents, they comprise 27 percent of voting age residents who lack an Iowa driver’s license or non-operator ID. In Scott County, they make up only 9 percent of voting age residents, but comprise 24 percent of those without the ID; in Polk County, they make up only 8 percent of voting age residents, but 21 percent of those without an ID; and in Linn and Johnson Counties, where African-Americans make up only 6 percent of all eligible voters, they make up 16 percent of those without the ID. Thus, Pate’s proposal would most certainly have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans in those counties.
Zeno and Betty Andrews of the Iowa-Nebraska chapter of the NAACP repeated those points at the public hearing on House File 516. Speaking on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Mitch Henry similarly explained why the voter ID proposal would disproportionately affect Latinos in Iowa.
Forty-eight percent (48%) of Asian American and Pacific Islander Iowans (AAPI) have limited English proficiency and 15.2% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Iowa live below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).1 The combined effect of limited English proficiency, poverty and increased voter requirements called for in the current provisions of Division II in HSB 93 and SSB1193 may serve to impede access to the voting booth for many AAPI Iowans.
Many naturalized citizens (who are former refugees and immigrants) from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities do not have the government issued photo identification required in HSB93 and SSB1163 as it is currently written.
Refugees and immigrants often do not actively seek a government issued ID beyond those required for their employment. Because they frequently work long and/or irregular hours in jobs with minimal or no paid leave, rely on public transportation, and are often living in poverty, this population must prioritize their resources to those needs that allow them to function in day-to-day life.
Many Asian American and Pacific Islander Iowans are also first time voters. Voter education about voting requirements is most important for those who are not familiar with the process and our state’s requirements. This bill does not provide for adequate education and outreach to new Iowans or new voters to inform them about election laws, requirements and responsibilities.
Jung mentioned during his testimony that it is rare for his commission to take a position on pending legislation. I later confirmed with Monica Stone of the Iowa Department of Human Rights that this is the first time the commission has advocated for or against an Iowa House or Senate bill.
Think about that. Iowa established the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs in 2004. In thirteen years of advocacy and education work, this group of volunteers has never before been so concerned about a bill's potential impact on the state's Asian and Pacific Islander population.
Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, executive director of One Iowa, explained at the public hearing how voter ID could prevent transgender Iowans from exercising their constitutional rights. Click here for details on those barriers.
Pate, Rizer, and others keep saying free voter ID will be mailed to all Iowa voters. But those who register close to or on election day won't receive the card in time. Elise Bauernfeind is only one among thousands of Iowa college students who could be disenfranchised for that reason. The student government presidents at all three state universities spoke out in January about the "unnecessary burden" voter ID would create for college students, many of whom are first-time voters without an Iowa-issued driver's license. A 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirmed the right of students to vote in the city or town where they attend college.
The American Association of Retired Persons registered against House File 516 because of the problems it could create for older Iowans. Many elderly people no longer drive and don't travel abroad, so do not have any current photo ID. Even if county auditors mail a new voter ID to every Iowan in that situation, some might lose the card or throw the envelope away, not realizing its importance.
Pate has said his office won't need any extra funding to educate Iowans about the new voter ID requirements.
State Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt noted during the Iowa House debate that someone might be denied a regular ballot if the address on the driver's license doesn't match the address where the voter now lives. (Many people move more frequently than they update their driver's license.) In other words, poll workers may reject people who are registered to vote at their correct address, solely because the voter carries an outdated driver's license. While being questioned by Running-Marquardt on March 8, the recently-divorced Rizer admitted he does not currently live at the address on his driver's license. He dismissed the potential problem, because he will have time to change the records before the next election. But many Iowans won't realize they could be caught in that trap until they try to cast a ballot in 2018 or 2020.
Any Iowan whose purse or wallet is stolen shortly before election day could also lose the ability to vote, unless the person has a current passport or other valid ID at home.
State Representative Amy Nielsen was called on a point of order for talking about implicit bias and racism embedded in the voter ID bill. Not only are African-Americans less likely to have photo ID, they are also more likely to be excluded by white poll workers who deem their picture not to be a sufficient resemblance.
Nielsen referred to a study showing that voter ID bills suppress the vote by 2 to 3 percent, "which translates to tens of thousands of votes." The Government Accountability Office conducted that research. After analyzing turnout in states with and without voter ID laws,
GAO found that turnout among eligible and registered voters declined more in Kansas and Tennessee than it declined in comparison states—by an estimated 1.9 to 2.2 percentage points more in Kansas and 2.2 to 3.2 percentage points more in Tennessee— and the results were consistent across the different data sources and voter populations used in the analysis.
More than a million Iowans cast ballots in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections; more than 1.5 million did so in the 2012 and 2016 presidential years. Even if House File 516 "only" reduces turnout by 1 percent, that works out to more than 10,000 Iowans.
Kathie Obradovich commented in her latest Des Moines Register column,
People without a government-issued photo ID will be provided a free state voter card — if lawmakers decide they want to pay for them. Those who never receive a card or misplace it will face barriers that may prove insurmountable, especially for some elderly or poor voters.
That risk of sidelining just a few legal voters might be justifiable if Iowa faced widespread voter impersonation fraud, but it doesn’t.
Supporters of voter ID kept coming up with new activities in daily life that require identification: buying alcohol or cigarettes, flying in airplanes, getting a fishing license, renting bowling shoes, for goodness sake! Never mind that there is no constitutional right to imbibe, smoke, fly, fish or bowl. [...]
Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, said on the House floor on Wednesday that lawmakers were insulting the poor, elderly and minorities by suggesting they can’t manage to obtain an ID and vote. She had confidence in them, she said.
I've noticed many conservatives using the same argument on social media. Denying the observed reality in states that have implemented voter ID, these Republicans claim that talking about such barriers is itself racist or age-ist. Groups advocating for African-Americans or Latinos or Asian-Americans aren't against voter ID laws because they think minority voters are incompetent. They know those hurdles will prevent many members of minority groups from voting. Republicans know it too, which is why they promote these laws everywhere they gain power, despite the lack of any demonstrated election fraud that voter ID would prevent.
On the House floor, Rizer repeatedly referenced federal court rulings that upheld Indiana's voter ID law. Notably, those decisions came out before the law took effect. The Brennan Center's Jennifer L. Clark wrote in 2014,
In the face of mounting evidence of voter ID’s disenfranchising effects, Judge Richard Posner — a leading conservative jurist who wrote the pivotal appellate court opinion upholding Indiana’s strict photo ID law a decade ago — reversed course and come out against voter ID laws. In a book released last year, Posner wrote that ID laws are “widely regarded as a means of voter suppression.”
Rizer cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Indiana's law, authored by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens. But Stevens has since admitted that the court may have reached the wrong conclusion.
Democrats challenged the provision, saying that although the use of photo ID seems ubiquitous to most, many poor and elderly people were less likely to have the kind of identification that Indiana required. The legislature’s real interest, the challengers said, was discouraging voters who tend to vote Democratic.
But a district court and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit said the challengers had not proved their case; for one thing, they lacked a compelling portrait of people who had been denied the ability to vote. [...]
The Supreme Court said in the 2008 case that the lower courts “correctly concluded that the evidence in the record is not sufficient to support a facial attack on the validity of the entire statute.” [...]
Stevens, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, mentioned a dozen times in the opinion that it was based on “the record” in the case.
“I learned a lot of things outside the record that made me very concerned about that statute,” Stevens said in the conversation with Kagan and Wood. “So I had the question: Should I rely on my own research or what’s in the record?”
“And I thought in that case I had a duty to confine myself to what the record did prove, and I thought it did not prove the plaintiffs’ case. And as a result, we ended up with a fairly unfortunate decision.”
The signature verification requirements in House File 516 create additional problems. People's signatures change over time, due to age or health conditions. A signature made by a finger on an electronic pad usually differs from how the same person signs with a pen on paper. State Representative Wes Breckenridge noted during the floor debate that police turn to experts with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to analyze signatures. Now Republicans want thousands of untrained poll workers to do the job.
State Representative Mary Gaskill, the only Iowa lawmaker who is a former county auditor, predicted that implementing House File 516 will require at least one additional poll worker in every precinct to handle the extra work of comparing voters' photos and signatures. The law would vastly increase the number of Iowans forced to cast provisional ballots, for lack of proper ID, or for not sufficiently resembling their driver's license photo, or for having an old address on that license.
We know from other states' experiences that many of those votes will never be counted.
A small portion of total provisional ballots in Kansas and Tennessee were cast for ID reasons in 2012, and less than half were counted. In Kansas, 2.2 percent of all provisional ballots in 2012 were cast due to ID reasons, and 37 percent of these provisional ballots were counted. In Tennessee, 9.5 percent of all provisional ballots in 2012 were cast due to ID reasons and 26 percent were counted. Provisional ballots cast for ID reasons may not be counted for a variety of reasons in Kansas and Tennessee, including the voter not providing valid ID during or following an election.
People lead busy lives, especially the working poor. Many elderly voters don't drive. They may be unable to get to the county auditor's office within a few days of the election to prove their identity. Or, for voters like Elise Bauernfeind, a few days might not be enough time to obtain the right form of Iowa-issued identification.
Not one Iowa House Republican acknowledged the huge body of evidence and personal testimony pointing to the same conclusion: thousands of Iowans who are eligible to vote will be unable to exercise that constitutional right under Pate's proposal.
DISCOUNTING CONCERNS RAISED BY COUNTY AUDITORS
Although their personal voting rights are not at risk, Iowa's county auditors will be profoundly affected by House File 516. John Deeth, a longtime worker in the Johnson County elections office, wrote in January,
I know a lot of auditors of both parties. Almost every one is an election administrator first and a partisan later if at all. And auditors aren't fans of voter ID. Not because it will be more work, though it will be. But because they've been on the front lines of dealing with the public and they know that it doesn't solve anything and that it will make it harder for the voters.
Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson posted the full audio from a January subcommittee hearing of the House State Government Committee, where four county auditors testified. Highlights:
“The photo is the least effective way to identify a voter. People have cancer. People have been on meth,” [Jasper County Auditor Dennis] Parrott says. “People change over a 10-year period....Poll workers have a difficult time as it is in the job that they do. They don’t need to have the burden of trying to subjectively identify someone by a photo when that bar code will do it for them.” [...]
Parrott says a person’s signature on their voter registration could be a “useful” means of verification, but it will create “a terrible burden” for the state’s 9000 poll workers.
“Signatures change over time. I’ll bet yours has,” Parrott says. “They change with age. They change with health issues...and all sorts of things.”
The Iowa State Association of County Auditors voted in February to oppose Pate's bill.
Rhonda Deters, the association's president and the county auditor in Grundy County, says the group has several concerns about the legislation. While there has been a focus on the proposed voter ID requirement, the association is also worried about how technology upgrades would be implemented.
Linley Sanders reported for the Associated Press last week,
As lawmakers argued over the legislation, county auditors at the Capitol earlier in the day questioned the available funding. The bill doesn't have a formal price tag, though the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, using details provided by Pate's staff, estimated the measure has a one-time fiscal impact of roughly $200,000 for the secretary of state's office. That includes $85,000 for state-issued IDs for people without Iowa driver's licenses. [...]
Stephanie Burke, the county auditor in Montgomery County, is worried her office will be overloaded if responsibility for the state-issued ID cards eventually shifts to county auditors.
"We are a small county with small budgets," she said. "It may be funded now, but I just can't see it being funded forever for those ID cards."
Rizer confirmed Wednesday that after the initial rollout of 85,000 cards at $1 each, costs for issuing them would fall on counties.
Inevitably, many panicked voters will realize late in the game that they can't find their voter ID. So under-funded elections offices will need to print up and mail out new cards.
Those hidden costs are a primary reason the Iowa State Association of Counties is registered against House File 516. (Heaven knows fundamental constitutional rights are not a high priority for the group representing county governments.)
In his critiques of the legislation, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller has emphasized the "unfunded mandate" on counties that don't already use e-pollbooks. Miller has also said voter education will be far more costly than the secretary of state lets on, and warned Linn County lawmakers (a group including Rizer) that property taxes will go up if House File 516 becomes law. In the public comment he submitted to the House State Government Committee, Miller wrote,
In my February 22nd email to you Rep Rizer, I copied Reps [Louis] Zumbach and [Todd] Taylor, and indicated the cost for Linn County to buy ePollbooks for our 86 precincts is over $278K. I informed you that Linn County just spent over $834K for new ballot scanners and ADA devices. Linn County set aside funds over a four year period in order to buy that election equipment. [...]
And what good does it do to modernize the precincts with ePollbooks when the Secretary of State has compared the Statewide Voter Registration system to a computer operating on Windows 95?
Yes, Honorable Committee, we need to modernize the equipment we use at our precincts for elections. We need ePollbooks in every precinct connected to the Statewide Voter Registration system in real-time. And that Honorable Committee is going to take more than a revolving loan fund.
The taxpayers of Linn County spent almost $835K to administer elections in calendar year 2016. That’s more than this bill proposes to loan to the entire State to modernize our elections.
Honorable Committee, I urge you to vote down HF516 until you find a way to fund the modernization you are indicating that Linn County and other counties need to increase the integrity of our elections. The last thing this State needs is a patchwork of ePollbooks scattered about the State.
Among Iowa's county auditors, Travis Weipert of Johnson County has been the most outspoken about how voter ID could disenfranchise lawful voters. From a report in the Iowa City Press-Citizen last month:
Weipert, a Democrat, said voter ID at the polls is not necessary because election officials already use information like Social Security numbers and driver's license or non-operator license numbers to check voters' identities when they register to vote.
"Here in Johnson County I’m against requiring any kind of ID at the poll because when you register we’re already verifying who you are," he said.
Any form of ID creates barriers to voting that have a larger impact on new voters and voters with frequent address changes, like University of Iowa students, Weipert said. [...]
Pate has said every registered voter who does not already own one of the forms of ID allowed by the bill — a driver's license, non-driver's ID, military ID, veterans ID or a passport — will receive a voter ID card in the mail, including new voters when they register. But Weipert said a new ID that people will only use once every two or four years is likely to get lost.
"I know my 90-year-old grandma doesn’t have an ID anymore and she would end up with one of these cards and I know she would lose it," Weipert said.
In a written comment on the bill, Black Hawk County Auditor Grant Veeder stated,
Virtually no problems resulting from voter impersonation have been recorded, so any effect this can have in improving election integrity is negated a thousandfold by the effect it will have of jeopardizing the voting rights of populations whose access to the required identification is chronically or occasionally problematic. Among others, this includes racial minorities, college students, lowincome individuals, and transgender individuals. The overall effect, as has been demonstrated in other states where this has become law, is voter discouragement. The nationwide effort to aggressively push such legislation, in the absence of any demonstrable need, amounts to voter suppression.
During his testimony at the March 6 public hearing, Weipert mentioned that the Republican auditor of Cedar County had told State Representative Bobby Kaufmann she was against the voter ID bill. Weipert also brought up an embarrassing moment for Rizer, who revealed his ignorance about Iowa's voter registration process during a recent public forum in Linn County. You read that right: the House Republican point man on "election integrity" didn't know basic facts about the current system.
In a speech on the House floor, Republican State Representative Kevin Koester tried to spin House File 516 as a way to clean up Iowa's voter rolls. Miller debunked that idea too: the bill does not change rules on inactivating voters. (Deeth can tell you everything you need to know about voter roll maintenance challenges.)
Several House Democrats reminded GOP colleagues during the long debate that the county auditors association opposes the bill. Professional election administrators have concluded voter ID and signature verification will make it more difficult, not easier, for Iowans to cast ballots. County auditors know photo ID is not an effective way to verify a voter's identity.
The weight of those expert opinions didn't change a single Republican lawmaker's mind.
OVERLOOKING THE COST OF LITIGATION
The fiscal note on House File estimates costs of $200,100, based on information provided by the Secretary of State's Office. For the moment, let's pretend that lowball figure fully accounts for the cost of printing and mailing voter ID cards to every Iowan who needs one.
Several House Democrats noted during the debate that other states have spent millions of dollars defending their voter ID laws in court. Pate has said his voter ID proposal is designed to avoid a court challenge, which is why one of five valid forms of ID (the county-issued voter card) will not include a photo.
Don't be fooled. The ACLU and possibly other groups will file suit to stop this law from taking effect, and the case could drag on for years. State Representative Mary Wolfe, an attorney by trade, made this point most forcefully in one of her speeches on March 8.
Iowa House File 516 seeks to impose arbitrary and irrational restrictions on the ability of law abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Based on a very recent discussion that took place right here in the House Chambers (i.e., last night's debate on House File 517, the omnibus gun bill), my understanding is that there exists amongst my colleagues in the majority party a general consensus that ANY government restrictions on the free exercise of a constitutional right should be either non-existent or as narrowly tailored as possible.
And I agree. The test of whether it is appropriate for this body to pass a law that makes the free exercise of a constitutional right more burdensome for law abiding Iowans is not and should not be whether the proposed restriction falls within a "constitutionally accepted framework" (which is what the bill's sponsor suggested during debate)--it's whether or not the restrictions are actually needed to serve a "compelling governmental interest," and if so, whether the restrictions are as narrowly tailored as possible to achieve that compelling governmental interest.
In the present case, House File 516's proposed restrictions on the type of ID that eligible voters will be required to produce before being allowed to exercise their constitutional right will indisputably make exercising that constitutional right more burdensome for many Iowans and will result in the effective disenfranchisement of at least some Iowans who are legally eligible to vote. The proposed restrictions are not narrowly tailored, and thus even if there was overwhelming evidence that voter identification fraud was occurring in Iowa, I doubt that the complicated and arbitrary restrictions proposed in this bill would survive a "strict scrutiny" review. Since there is, in fact, zero evidence that voter identification fraud is an actual thing here in Iowa, I have zero doubt that the inevitable court challenges to the constitutionality of these restrictions (which court challenges will be financed by Iowa's taxpayers) will prevail, and that at least some of the restrictions on voting that are created in House File 516 will be held to violate our federal and state constitutions. I don't vote yes on bills that authorize our state government to violate the constitutional rights of Iowans, and thus I'm a no on House File 516.
Pate has admitted his bill isn't an anti-fraud measure.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate on Thursday [January 12] defended his new voter identification proposal as an effort to improve administrative efficiency — not to prevent fraud or disqualify voters. [...]
Along with expanding so-called electronic poll books, Pate’s proposal would require all voters to present a state-issue identification card when casting a ballot. But, he argued, what he’s suggesting differs significantly from photo-ID requirements introduced and enacted elsewhere in the country over the last decade.
Such photo-ID laws have been sold as a tool for combating voter fraud and derided by critics as a method of disenfranchisement because of the costs and practical challenges that can come with obtaining a state-issued photo ID.
In contrast to such approaches, Pate says his plan is meant to ease election administration. [...]
“What I want at the end of the day is the cleanest and best list to make sure everybody is eligible without imposing a lot of burden on the voter.”
Rizer admitted during the House debate that he has no evidence of voter impersonation fraud, but claimed the "perception" of widespread fraud justifies the restrictions in House File 516. Democrat John Forbes commented that he never heard a constituent bring up this alleged problem during all of his door-knocking last year.
Pate loves to talk about opinion poll data on voter ID. Here's the statement he released after his bill cleared the lower chamber:
I commend the members of the Iowa House that listened to their constituents and voted for the Election Integrity and Modernization Act. Almost 70 percent of Iowans support a voter ID system, including 48 percent of Iowa Democrats. This comprehensive and innovative approach will eliminate the potential for human error and fraud, and secure Iowa’s elections moving forward. It should be easy to vote, but hard to cheat. This bill accomplishes both of those goals.
I want to make this clear: No eligible voter will be denied their right to vote by this legislation. I am adamant about that fact and will fight to ensure voters are not disenfranchised. Iowa is a leader in voter participation and integrity, and this legislation will ensure we maintain that status in the future. I look forward to the Iowa Senate taking up this measure soon and sending it to the governor to sign into law.
Why does Pate think the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs took the extraordinary step of preparing a report on how his bill would "impede access to the voting booth"? Why would the AARP weigh in on an election bill without real grounds to worry about the voting rights of senior citizens?
Even if large numbers of Iowans support the concept of voter ID, is public opinion sufficient reason for the state to infringe on a constitutional right? Last time I checked, minority rights were not subject to a majority vote in this country.
Pate's own staff can't show that voter ID requirements would have prevented a single improperly cast ballot in 2016. Miller pointed out that all seven people with felony convictions who may have voted illegally in Iowa's second-largest county last year had photo IDs. Seven out of some 118,000 Linn County residents who voted in the 2016 general election works out to about 0.006 percent of ballots. Again, all seven of those questionable voters had valid IDs.
Plaintiffs challenging Iowa's voter ID law won't have to show intentional discrimination by Pate or Republican lawmakers. As Wolfe said, "a policy, rule, or law, may be considered legally discriminatory if it has a disproportionate & adverse impact upon one group." Perhaps Iowa's law will survive a court challenge, as similar statutes have done elsewhere. Or, perhaps the Iowa Supreme Court will hold that our state's constitution sets a higher bar for governmental action to restrict voting rights. Either way, the costs of defending this bill will far exceed the $200,100 mentioned in the fiscal note.
House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow's March 10 newsletter boasted about "protecting Iowa's election integrity" and claimed,
As we worked through this issue, House Republicans listened to Iowan’s [sic] concerns over earlier versions of the bill. For that reason, HF 516 does not shorten the absentee voting window and it does not shorten poll hours. Absentee voting will still begin forty days before Election Day and the polls will still be open from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.
Too bad Republicans refused to listen to the Iowans who run our state's elections, or to those representing the most vulnerable groups of voters.