In fewer than three months on the job, Secretary of State Matt Schultz has prompted the president of the Iowa county auditors association to express concern about being “dragged into a partisan fight.” Jennifer Jacobs covered Butler County Auditor Holly Fokkena’s extraordinary comments in Sunday’s Des Moines Register. Not only is Fokkena a Republican like Schultz, she is from a county that tilts strongly to the GOP. Yet she is worried about Schultz’s push to require all voters to show photo ID.
Background and recent developments on the photo ID controversy are after the jump.
Photo ID was a central issue in Schultz’s campaign for secretary of state, both during the Republican primary and in the general election. He advocates reform modeled on Indiana’s photo ID law, which survived a court challenge. All voters would be required to show ID when voting in person, and anyone who attempted to vote without a valid ID would have to cast a provisional ballot. He hasn’t discussed how Iowa should pay for the measure; the fiscal note on the photo ID bill estimates that it would
result in a loss of revenue to the Road Use Tax Fund of $173,000 in FY 2012 and $345,000 each year thereafter to reflect the cost of providing identification cards at no charge for the current level of customers.
The fiscal impact resulting from the increased number of persons obtaining nonoperator identification cards and birth certificates as a result of the new voting requirements of this Bill cannot be determined at this time.
That doesn’t include the cost of a massive public education campaign to inform voters about the new requirement before the next election.
Republicans nationwide have embraced voter ID laws, and the Iowa House approved House File 95 on a party-line vote during the first month of this year’s session. The bill is going nowhere in the Senate, partly because the county auditors’ association came out against it.
Schultz had no background in administering elections before becoming secretary of state. He brought on Story County auditor Mary Mosiman as his deputy for the elections division, which I hoped was a sign that he would listen to experienced counsel. After all, the 99 county auditors are familiar with the voting process in Iowa, including its strengths and weaknesses. A majority of those auditors are Republicans.
Jacobs reported in the Sunday Register that Schultz plans to “go around” the auditors:
Beginning in April, he will start hitting all 99 counties to drum up support from Iowans, he said. His two elections deputies, Jim Gibbons and Mary Mosiman, will accompany him.
“I have an agenda, and I’m very clear to the people of Iowa what that agenda is,” Schultz said. “My agenda is to have fair and honest elections, and the first piece is to have a photo ID when you vote.”
Fokkena, a Republican, said it’s very rare for the Iowa Association of County Auditors to publicly oppose an elections bill. This one is worrisome because it would disenfranchise voters, she said.
“Some specific populations would struggle with this more than others,” she said.
The county auditors have felt at odds with Schultz “from day one,” said Fokkena, elections chief in Butler County.
“We extended an olive branch. We don’t want to be at odds with the secretary of state,” she said. “I’m going out on a limb here, but the concern I have is how he’s going about the fulfilment of his desire to put voter ID into law.”
Secretary of State Michael Mauro expressed opinions about some bills when he was secretary of state; for instance, he backed legislation requiring paper ballots rather than touchscreen voting machines. But I am not aware of any other statewide official touring the state to advocate for a bill county officials in his field unanimously oppose. I have to agree with Democratic State Senator Tom Courtney, who told Jacobs,
“I think it’s wrong for [Schultz] to be running around 99 counties on the taxpayers’ dime,” Courtney said. “I don’t know why he doesn’t stay here and do his job like other secretary of states have done.”
Schultz may feel emboldened to keep pressing this issue because some Iowa newspapers have advocated for photo ID requirements. Editorials supporting the Republican-backed proposal have appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier and the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.
Schultz has claimed, “In the last election, Iowans overwhelmingly supported the requirement of a photo ID to vote with their choice for Secretary of State.” Overwhelmingly? Schultz won by 50 percent to 47 percent in a huge Republican landslide year. He received fewer votes than most of the other Republicans seeking statewide offices. He happened to be running against a first-term incumbent with relatively low name recognition and a surname ending in a vowel. It’s a real stretch to view Schultz’s victory as a referendum on voter ID laws.
Schultz plans to launch a pro-photo ID website and told Jacobs that he is researching whether state money could be used to support that website, or whether it would have to be funded by a political campaign. He is widely expected to seek higher office someday, and a statewide tour could help boost his name recognition. County auditors’ concerns will take a back seat.
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P.S.- Since when is Jim Gibbons an “elections” deputy? He doesn’t have any experience administering elections, and Schultz hired him to run the business division of the Secretary of State’s Office. His job should have nothing to do with photo ID laws for voters, and there’s no reason for him join Schultz’s campaign tour.
P.P.S- Jacobs reported that State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa proposed a bill this year to prohibit county auditors from endorsing candidates in contested races. (I couldn’t find that proposal on the list of bills introduced relating to elections or on the list of bills Hanusa has sponsored, but I will update this post if I find a bill number.) The bill didn’t make it through the “funnel” deadline for action this session. Hanusa represents a Council Bluffs district on Schultz’s home turf. Many Republican county auditors–including the one in Pottawattamie County–endorsed Democratic incumbent Mauro over Schultz in 2010.
MARCH 24 UPDATE: Senate State Government Committee Chair Jeff Danielson confirmed that the voter ID law “will not survive the funnel” on April 1 because it lacks the votes in his committee.