13 questions to ask at the public hearing on voter ID rules

This afternoon’s public hearing at the Iowa Secretary of State’s office probably will not lead to any substantial revisions in the administrative rules proposed to implement Iowa’s new election law. While the bill was working its way through the legislature, neither Secretary of State Paul Pate nor Republican lawmakers acknowledged research from other states, indicating voter ID and signature verification requirements would suppress voting by some eligible citizens, especially in certain groups.

Nevertheless, the record from today’s hearing could become important in potential future court rulings on the law.

Gerry Hebert, one of the country’s top experts on voting rights law, told an audience in Des Moines last week that testimony at public hearings has sometimes been useful in litigation on other states’ voting restrictions. Speaking to Bleeding Heartland after that event, Hebert offered more specific suggestions on questions that would be helpful for citizens to ask today.

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First look at Jim Mowrer's campaign for Iowa secretary of state

Vowing to fight for every vote to be counted and to “say no to making it harder and more expensive to vote,” Jim Mowrer launched his campaign for secretary of state on August 3. He is well-known to many Democrats as Representative Steve King’s 2014 opponent in the fourth Congressional district and Representative David Young’s challenger in the third district last year. Follow me after the jump for more on Mowrer’s case for his candidacy and against Secretary of State Paul Pate, including highlights from an interview with Bleeding Heartland.

Mowrer will have at least one competitor in the Democratic primary. Deidre DeJear launched her campaign on August 6. She’s on the web, Facebook, and Twitter. I recently spoke to DeJear about her background and goals and have a post in progress on her secretary of state campaign. Iowa Starting Line profiled her here.

State Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City has not ruled out the secretary of state race either, he told me in late July.

I’ve reached out to several county auditors who had floated the idea of challenging Pate in 2018. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald told me he is no longer considering a run for higher office. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announced on Facebook on August 3 that Mowrer “has my full backing.” UPDATE: Two more county auditors endorsed Mowrer on August 7. Scroll to the end of this post for details.

Nathan Blake, who had been thinking about this race, confirmed two weeks ago that he has decided against it.

Because I believe the most dangerous thing about the Trump Republican Party is its disdain for democracy and its corresponding voter suppression efforts, I had been planning to run for Secretary of State in 2018. However, in May Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller asked me to take on a new role as a Deputy Attorney General. I believe I can do the most good over the next few years working for AG Miller to stand up for the rule of law, keep Iowans safe, and protect consumers. While I won’t be running for anything this cycle, I’ll continue to fight for voting rights and other progressive policies and I’ll evaluate opportunities to serve in elected office in the future.

Bill Brauch likewise considered running for secretary of state but will not be a candidate for any office next year. Instead, he told me, he will continue volunteering as the Iowa Democratic Party’s Third District Chair.

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Read Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate's draft voter ID and election reform bills

The Legislative Services Agency has drafted three bills fleshing out Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposals on voter ID and other changes to election administration, such as signature verification and wider use of electronic poll books. Bleeding Heartland obtained copies of the documents, which I enclose below.

Important caveats:

These drafts are not the final versions of Pate’s bills.

The voter ID plan is consistent with Pate’s comments at an early January press conference and talking points the Secretary of State’s Office distributed the following week. As far as I can tell, these drafts have not incorporated feedback from the four county auditors who testified at a January 26 Iowa House hearing. Many election administrators have reservations about signature verification requirements as well as voter ID. Legislative staff may rewrite some provisions before the bills are assigned numbers and formally introduced in the Iowa House and Senate.

Republican lawmakers will alter Pate’s bills, if they run them at all.

Departmental bills often die in Iowa legislative committees. State Representative Ken Rizer and State Senator Roby Smith, who lead the State Government Committees in their respective chambers, told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press last week “they’re working together on possible changes” to Pate’s plan. Rizer described the secretary of state’s recommendations as “a starting point for an election reform bill.” I expect Pate will end up playing “good cop,” with the “bad cops” in the House and Senate passing more restrictive ID requirements as well as steps to limit early voting, which Pate has not endorsed.

These bills do not yet come with a price tag.

Eventually, the Legislative Services Agency will produce a fiscal note estimating the cost of enacting each bill. Pate initially suggested his plans would require $1 million, roughly half to make electronic poll books universally available, and half to provide voter ID cards to about 140,000 registered Iowa voters lacking a driver’s license or other valid identification. More recently, he has said only about 85,000 current Iowa voters would need a new ID card to bring to the polls, reducing the cost to the state.

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Catching up on the Iowa secretary of state race

The Iowa secretary of state campaign looks like a nail-biter. Neither Democrat Brad Anderson nor Republican Paul Pate has had a lead outside the margin of error in any public poll I’ve seen. The new Loras College statewide survey shows Anderson barely ahead of Pate by 39.9 percent to 39.0 percent. That survey did not include the other two candidates running for secretary of state, even though Libertarian Jake Porter received about 3 percent of the statewide vote in 2010.

When Anderson and Pate appeared jointly on Iowa Public Television earlier this month (in a “job interview” that resembled a debate), major differences between the candidates were apparent. Pate would continue outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s crusade for a voter ID law, an expensive “fix” to a non-existent problem, which risks disenfranchising voters. Anderson proposes several ideas to improve the voter file and maintain security, without depressing turnout.

During the same “Iowa Press” program, Pate hedged on whether former employees of the Secretary of State’s Office should pay back the state for salary and benefits they received for doing no work. I’ve enclosed that exchange after the jump. I would guess that 90 percent of Iowans agree with Anderson: it’s a “no-brainer” that these people should pay back the money.

Pate’s campaign website is mostly devoid of policy ideas. His case to voters is simple: he has more experience, having served as secretary of state before, he supports voter ID requirements, and he is a “non-partisan leader,” as opposed to his “partisan political operative” opponent. Never mind that Pate once sought the position of Iowa GOP chair.

Compared to Pate, Anderson has proposed more specific ideas for improving the work of the Secretary of State’s Office. (For that matter, so has Porter.) Anderson’s campaign website includes not only ideas to make Iowa number one in voter turnout, but also proposals to make it easier to start a business, create a new registry for veteran-owned businesses, improve the integrity of the Iowa caucuses, make it easier for overseas and military voters to cast ballots, and most recently, an address confidentiality program that would allow survivors of domestic abuse or sexual violence “to register to vote, cast a ballot, and go about daily life without fear for safety.” (Pate’s campaign quickly announced that the Republican also supports “Safe at Home” measures.)

Anderson and Pate are still running the television and radio commercials Bleeding Heartland covered here. In addition, a group I’d never heard of called iVote has spent just under $30,000 to run a tv ad opposing Pate. Democratic strategists created the new political action committee to get involved in several secretary of state races. When I saw iVote’s spot for the first time during a lunchtime local newscast, the unorthodox style caught my attention. I’ve enclosed the video and transcript below. The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s fact-checker rated this ad “true.”

Speaking of the Gazette, that newspaper endorsed Anderson today, saying he would offer “a clean break” from the “sorry chapter” of Schultz’s tenure as secretary of state. Click through to read the whole editorial, or scroll own to read excerpts. How embarrassing for Pate not to get the support of his hometown newspaper. He’s been a local business owner for decades as well as a former Cedar Rapids mayor and former state senator representing part of Linn County.  

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Secretary of State race: Brad Anderson's on tv, Paul Pate's on the radio

Both major-party candidates for Iowa secretary of state started running paid advertising within the past two days. After the jump I’ve enclosed the video and transcript of Democratic nominee Brad Anderson’s first television commercial, as well as my transcript of Republican Paul Pate’s first radio ad. Both candidates call for making it “easy to vote” but “hard to cheat” in elections. CORRECTION: Anderson’s ad was released online on October 9 but started running on television stations across Iowa on October 13.

I’ve also enclosed below the voter ID discussion from the debate Pate and Anderson held on Iowa Public Television last weekend. Pate has embraced outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s pet project, in the absence of any evidence that voter impersonation is a real problem in Iowa (or elsewhere). Anderson explains his plan to strengthen election integrity without changing current state law on voter ID.

Two other candidates are running for secretary of state this year. Libertarian Jake Porter is making his second attempt at the job. In 2010, he received about 3 percent of the statewide vote. To my knowledge, he has not run any paid advertising yet this year. When Iowa Public Television excluded him from the recent “Iowa Press” debate, Porter said he will consider a lawsuit and fight to reduce Iowa Public Television’s taxpayer funding. The fourth candidate on the ballot is the little-known Spencer Highland of the “New Independent Party Iowa.”

Closer to election day, Bleeding Heartland will post a comprehensive review of the this campaign. Public Policy Polling’s Iowa survey from late September found Pate slightly ahead of Anderson by 36 percent to 33 percent, with Porter and Highland pulling 3 percent each.

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Matt Schultz touts more "fraud" that voter ID wouldn't prevent

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced yesterday that nine more Iowans are being charged with “voter fraud.” As you can see from the statement I’ve posted below, eight Waterloo residents face election misconduct charges (a Class D felony) because they registered to vote and cast ballots in the 2012 general election, even though they are felons whose voting rights had not been restored. One Lee County resident who is also an ex-felon is charged with registering to vote and casting a ballot in a 2013 local election.

By my count, Schultz’s obsessive hunt for voter fraud has now yielded criminal charges in 25 cases, representing less than a thousandth of one percent of ballots cast in Iowa’s recent local, state, and federal elections. Most of the cases involve felons whose rights had not been restored, though not all of the accused cast ballots–some had merely registered to vote. No proof has emerged that any of these people knew they were committing a crime. They may have assumed that they had a right to vote, because tens of thousands of Iowa ex-felons had their voting rights restored during Governor Chet Culver’s tenure. They may have assumed they were able to vote once offered a registration form.

Most important, none of these cases could have been averted if Schultz had accomplished his goal of forcing Iowans to show a photo ID when voting on election day. It’s likely that many of these improperly registered voters filled out a form after renewing a driver’s license. Schultz’s full-time criminal investigator has not found anyone guilty of impersonating another voter on election day, which is the only kind of fraud that a photo ID law could prevent.

The new defendants will probably be effective poster children for Schultz’s Congressional campaign, though. Republicans love the fantasy that making it more difficult for thousands of people to vote will somehow protect “election integrity” in Iowa.  

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