How Paul Pate is spinning county auditors on his voter ID plan

Nearly three weeks after Iowa Secretary of State announced plans to push for new voter ID requirements, Pate still hasn’t produced a draft bill that would answer important questions about how his scheme would work. Skeptics including John Deeth, Gavin Aronsen, Pat Rynard, the Des Moines Register editorial board, the Quad-City Times editorial board, and I have posited that the proposal would disenfranchise a significant number of eligible voters, largely from groups that tend to lean Democratic. Pate strenuously objects, claiming that his only concerns are for the “integrity” of Iowa elections and voter confidence in the system.

In addition to arguing his case on social media and in “a public relations tour of Iowa newsrooms,” Pate has sought to enlist support from county auditors, many of whom “aren’t fans of voter ID” requirements.

I enclose below two documents the Secretary of State’s Office distributed to county auditors during the week after his voter ID rollout.

Three pages of “Talking Points and Explanations” went out to county auditors on January 10. The first section, on “voter verification,” estimates that “about 140,000 registered voters” in Iowa do not have driver’s licenses. That figure doesn’t take into account people who are not currently registered here but would be entitled to vote in future elections. Pate’s proposal could create problems for new residents who still hold out-of-state driver’s licenses, or for the large number of college students who don’t drive.

The talking points document also notes,

Goal is a long-term bill that will withstand or avoid court challenge
Primary reason for court challenges is the purported inaccessibility of documentation required to obtain the ID. By issuing IDs to all presently registered voters, we negate that argument.

Good luck avoiding a lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is guaranteed to file suit against any new voter ID requirements.

Deputy Secretary of State Carol Olson e-mailed the second document to county auditors on January 12. The first part of the message hints that the Secretary of State’s Office had received some pushback:

Thank you for all the attention that you are giving to this legislation. Thank you, especially, to those who have reached out to us with questions, concerns, and statements of support. I know that you are all awaiting the bill draft, which should be available soon. We are working closely and continuously with LSA [Legislative Services Agency] to get that accomplished!

Even though the actual bill draft is not yet available, we are genuinely committed to keeping you all as well informed as we can. Follows is a brief overview of some myths that are being shared about the bill, and statements from us to refute those myths.

Again, the bill drafting process remains dynamic, and we welcome your insight as the bill journeys through the legislature!

How Olson can claim to provide “facts” about the voter ID plan while admitting that “the bill drafting process remains dynamic” is beyond me. Without the bill text, neither county auditors nor any other interested party can determine whether certain concerns are grounded in reality. For all we know, the “dynamic” process will produce legislation substantially different from what Pate has promised–for instance, requiring a photo ID, ending same-day registration, or shortening Iowa’s 40-day window for early voting.

Toward the end of page 2, this document denies that voter ID will “make voting more difficult & slow down the process at the polls.” (Deeth explained here why voter ID is likely to slow down the line.) The Secretary of State’s Office claims scanning voter IDs “will expedite voter processing and bolster voter confidence. […] This process facilitates voter verification, eliminates the need for cumbersome paper registers, shortens lines at the polls, and greatly reduces the chances of voter or poll worker errors.” (emphasis in original)

According to Deeth, even counties that already use electronic poll books print out voter lists as backup for precinct poll workers to use in case of a power outage.

Near the top of page 3, the document denies Pate’s proposal would create new obstacles for college students. (In a joint statement, the student body presidents of all three state universities had characterized Pate’s proposal as “unnecessary and burdensome,” saying new voter ID requirements would “severely limit the ability for college students to exercise their right to vote.”) According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the Election Integrity Act would allow students to “register using all the registration opportunities presently available, including online or at the polls on Election Day.”

On the same page, the Secretary of State’s Office refutes two other so-called “myths”:

MYTH: Voter fraud is so rare, there’s no need for this legislation.
FACT: We have been fortunate that we’ve not experienced widespread voter fraud in Iowa, but voter fraud does exist. One fraudulent vote cast is too many. Additionally, over 40% of votes are cast absentee, usually delivered through the mail and the voter is never seen. The Election Integrity Act ensures that all Iowans have a unique voter number (like a PIN) that will be included on every absentee ballot request form. This simple step will ensure that absentee ballots go only to eligible Iowans who are registered to vote, and who actually request a ballot, particularly protecting the vote of Iowans who are elderly or disabled.

MYTH: This is a solution looking for a problem.
FACT: The Election Integrity Act recognizes that the security of elections should never be taken for granted. It’s the same as locking your door before you leave for work in the morning. We all do that, to ensure the security of our home, although the chances of our home being broken into is rare [sic]. Iowans protect what we value, and we value our elections. The Election Integrity bill is about making sure no fraud will take place in the future. It is also about more than preventing fraud. It’s also about eliminating human error, increasing accurate voter processing, and creating a platform for future technology.

Locking the door before I leave the house doesn’t cause any hassle for anyone else. But requiring an ID to vote in person could create logistical problems for some 140,000 Iowans who don’t have a valid driver’s license.

Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, inconveniencing many voters, over the theoretical possibility that a handful of fraudulent votes might be cast?

Reading these documents hasn’t persuaded me that Pate’s efforts are worthwhile. I wonder whether any of the talking points and “facts” convinced county auditors. In his must-read post drawing on nineteen years of experience in the Johnson County Elections Office, Deeth wrote,

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.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Surprise, surprise: Iowa House and Senate Republicans are working on changes to Pate’s “election integrity” bill. Barbara Rodriguez reported today for the Associated Press,

Rep. Ken Rizer of Marion and Sen. Roby Smith of Davenport said Wednesday they’re working together on possible changes to Secretary of State Paul Pate’s voter ID bill, which was announced on Jan. 5. The lawmakers oversee the state government committees in the House and Senate that would review the bill. They declined to reveal details.

Rizer, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he expected to work off Pate’s bill. A draft of that measure has not been made public yet.

“What we’re looking to do is take what Secretary Pate has recommended and use that as a starting point for an election reform bill,” he said. […]

Smith agreed with Rizer’s assessment in a later interview that included both men. Smith noted that neither of them had seen a draft of Pate’s bill and everything was preliminary. The lawmakers said they’re communicating with their caucuses to go over ideas.

I have trouble believing that neither Rizer nor Smith have seen a draft of Pate’s bill. But I expect statehouse Republicans to propose much more restrictive election “reforms”–not only on voter ID but also related to early voting. Reporters who published sympathetic articles influenced by Pate’s spin should have waited to see the legislation House and Senate members will consider.

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  • Not everybody

    I don’t lock my house when I leave. Nor remove the keys from my ignition when I leave my car. I don’t live in fear of highly unlikely events like car theft or snoopy visitors.

  • This bill is a disaster waiting to happen

    Secretary Pate has been touting this bill for weeks now, but still there’s no bill! He could have prefiled the bill like any state agency, but apparently didn’t do so. It sure is a moving target. In November Pate said Iowa had no voter fraud. In early January he touted fraud deterrence in promoting the bill. More recently he said it’s intent is to streamline the process. But some things seem clear. First, voters will have to bring some form of ID to vote a regular ballot. Lack of an Iowa driver’s license, passport, or the new voter ID card he keeps talking about leaves two alternatives – fill out a provisional ballot or go home without having voted. There is no doubt this will confuse voters and deter some from even coming to the polls. Of course, provisional ballots aren’t counted election night and may not be accepted.

    Pate also implies he will be mailing out his new voter ID cards to voters who lack Iowa driver’s licenses and that they’ll come unsolicited. Now this would be a recipe for fraud. We all know that voter registration records are not always up to date. Imagine tens of thousands of these cards being mailed to folks who aren’t expecting them (and, thus, may toss them when they arrive) or who are not the intended recipients. This will not be your grandfather’s voter card – this one will be a “ticket to vote.” Finally, the negative impact on college students of what Pate has discussed is apparent.

    Yes, House and Senate Republicans will likely take Pate’s bill (should it ever appear) and make it worse. But what he has apparently intended is bad enough on its own. Let’s all keep our eyes pealed for the bill. I’m watching every day.

    • Not defending Pate

      I don’t trust any voter ID proposal, but I will say that I’ve been monitoring new legislation every day, and I finally saw a departmental bill for the first time on Thursday. I can’t recall having seen one from one of the elected officials yet. Things that should have been prefiled were not. So I don’t necessarily blame him on that. It’s not LSA either. The Republicans are holding the bills in the chambers. I asked the Governor’s office earlier this week for help in getting ours introduced, but no luck so far.

      I have watched the SOS battle for appropriations the past couple of years in order to upgrade their technology, and it just never seems to be enough for them. When I saw them launch this idea, I wondered if this was just a scheme designed to get them the technology funding they’d been seeking. I can’t say that with certainty, though, because of the way he personally campaigned on the “infamous crimes” issue when that was before the courts. Before that, he had seemed disinclined to be as partisan as Schultz had been as SOS, but frankly, it’s hard to read him now. I do think the issue is going to be a hard sell this year because of the money. And if the R’s are rewriting it to cost less, it will still pose a litigation risk because of the potential poll tax/discrimination issues, depending on what the final draft looks like. I think he’d be better off with an interim committee this year, but if the R’s want to suppress votes, they won’t go for that. I think we’ll see a couple of bills on the topic within the next couple of weeks, neither of them good.