The topic at hand was supposed to be Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announcing that he may run for Iowa secretary of state in 2018. In a March 19 press release, Weipert said, “I’ve been meeting with auditors of both parties across the state, and there’s wide agreement we need new leadership in the Secretary of State’s Office. […] We should be helping people vote, not making it harder.” Auditors are the top election administrators in Iowa’s 99 counties. Weipert has been an outspoken critic of Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposal to enact new voter ID and signature verification requirements. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved a version of Pate’s bill earlier this month.
Weipert has argued voter ID would disenfranchise some voters and create long lines at polling places. While working on a post about his possible challenge to Pate, I intended to include footage from the Johnson County auditor’s remarks at the March 6 public hearing on House File 516. I’d watched the whole hearing online. However, I couldn’t find Weipert anywhere in the video the Iowa House of Representatives posted on YouTube and on the legislature’s website.
Upon closer examination, I realized the official record of that hearing omitted the testimony of sixteen people, including Weipert.
As is standard practice at Iowa House public hearings, those who signed up to speak about House File 516 were allotted three minutes each. The plan was to alternate supporters and opponents of the bill for the first ten speakers, then “go in the order of the date and time a person signed up.” I enclose below the video posted by the Iowa House of Representatives. After State Government Committee Chair Ken Rizer called the meeting to order, Secretary Pate made the case for his proposal. Daniel Zeno spoke second, arguing against the bill on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. Cerro Gordo County Auditor Ken Kline was next. Although he has opposed voter ID legislation in the past, Kline came around to supporting this year’s version.
UPDATE: The Iowa House took their video off YouTube in the early afternoon of March 20. Here’s the copy I saved.
The first oddity appears at the 8:35 mark. Partway through Kline’s comments, the video cuts away and replays the beginning of the public hearing: introductory remarks from Rizer, then testimony by Pate, Zeno, and Kline.
My best guess is that whoever edited the video before uploading it to YouTube and the legislature’s website inserted that footage into the file twice to make it less obvious that other material had been removed. Some public hearings in the Iowa legislature are limited to an hour. With an eight-and-a-half minute segment played twice, the official video of the March 6 hearing on House File 516 runs to about 54 minutes.
In fact, that hearing was an hour and a half long.
At the 17:13 mark, the official video cuts away at the same point in Kline’s remarks, picking up in the middle of Deputy Secretary of State Carol Olson’s testimony supporting the bill.
The comments axed from the official record start around the 14:00-mark of this video, posted on the Iowa House Democrats Facebook page. Kline called attention to problems with past voter ID legislation in Iowa. By requiring photo ID, those bills relied on the subjective judgment of 6,000 precinct workers to compare voters with pictures. At the same time, the proposals “failed to address the least secure part of our process,” namely absentee ballots. House File 516 “is a major improvement” to past efforts, Kline argued, because it gives voters multiple ways to prove their identity, accommodates those without a driver’s license or other photo ID, and increases security for absentee ballots. He declared the bill to be “a good balance.”
Kline was the only county auditor to speak in favor of Pate’s bill at the public hearing. Why did the tail end of his remarks end up on the cutting room floor–twice? Perhaps someone didn’t appreciate his criticism of past House GOP proposals.
Viewing the glass as half-full, at least part of the Cerro Gordo auditor’s remarks made it into the official Iowa House video. Not a word from the next eight speakers did. The unedited video posted by House Democrats shows the following people spoke after Kline and before Olson: West Des Moines resident Aaron Sewell (for); Mitch Henry representing the League of United Latin American Citizens (against); Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren (for); Betty Andrews representing the NAACP’s Iowa-Nebraska chapter (against); Weipert (against); former House GOP candidate Emma Aquino Nemecek (for); Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel of One Iowa (against); Dane Nealson (for).
A few highlights from the missing testimony:
Henry argued that Pate’s “misguided and unnecessary” proposal would suppress many votes, especially among Latinos, African-Americans, and low-income, elderly, or disabled Iowans. He noted that the bill would be expensive and that the Iowa State Association of County Auditors–led by Grundy County Auditor Rhonda Deters, a Republican–had voted to oppose the legislation.
Andrews emphasized that the NAACP is “gravely concerned” about voter ID bills, which she characterized as “nothing short of a reincarnated poll tax and literacy test designed to disproportionately suppress the voting numbers of people of color […].” Research indicates that a higher percentage of African-Americans do not have photo ID (more on that here), “and I want to be very clear that it’s not against the law to not have a photo ID.” Andrews also said voter fraud is so rare that “you’re more likely to be struck and killed by lightning than to commit voter fraud,” adding that we should be more concerned about how more than 5,000 votes went uncounted in Dallas County last year.
Weipert’s testimony began around the 25:30 mark of the unedited video. He was speaking on behalf of his Johnson County constituents, not the county auditors’ association. He challenged the bill’s premise: “What problem are we solving? […] We’re fixing something that’s not broken.” Weipert implied that Rizer, the floor manager for House File 516, was ignorant of basic facts about the current system:
I’ve sat here at every committee meeting. And Representative Rizer, I don’t mean to call you out, but you even admitted that you didn’t even know when a voter registration form was filled out from beginning to end how that process works. Now I’ll give you credit: Joel Miller, [Linn County] Auditor Miller called you out, and you’re willing to work the polls [on election day]. I’m happy to hear that. But to me, that’s a reason why we need to back this bill up and educate people before we jump to conclusions with legislation.
[GOP] Representative [Bobby] Kaufmann–who I don’t see in the room–I was at a League of Women Voters forum [in Johnson County], and he himself admitted that two out of his three auditors, his own [Cedar] county auditor, who’s a Republican, told him she’s against this bill. Against it. And he covers part of my district. I’m against it. And he said he would take that into consideration. Well, I certainly hope he does, because this is nothing more than putting unfunded mandates and more work on the auditors across the state. […]
Several minutes later, Hoffman-Zinnel focused on the special burdens that voter ID laws place on transgender people, most of whom do not have a photo ID that matches their gender identity. One Iowa discussed those problems in a guest post for this site.
As mentioned above, the official video jumps from Kline to the middle of Carol Olson’s testimony defending the voter ID proposal, skipping the part where she gives her name and identifies herself as representing the Secretary of State’s office.
After Olson’s remarks, both the official video and the complete version show eight speakers: Ben Jung, leader of the state’s Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (against); Kim Reem of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women (for); Myrna Loehrlein of the League of Women Voters (against); former GOP State Representative Renee Schulte (for); Nathan Blake of Des Moines (against); Eric Gjerde of Cedar Rapids (against); Rebel Snodgrass, an unsuccessful GOP House candidate in 2016 (for); Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund (against).
At that point, the official record again diverges from what happened on March 6. Matt Chapman of Waukee (an occasional Bleeding Heartland author) followed Ryan. But the Iowa House video cuts away around 39:45, less than 30 seconds into his testimony. I recommend watching the full remarks, starting around 1:00:00 on the unredacted video.
“Voter disenfranchisement is something I know about,” Chapman told the panel. Convicted of a felony he had committed as a homeless teenager, he was unable to vote for three decades before then Governor Tom Vilsack restored his voting rights. Like the NAACP’s Andrews had done earlier, Chapman went on to highlight the uncounted ballots from Dallas County last year.
To not be able to participate is a feeling I understand, and I will do all that I can to help folks in that situation.
Now I live in Dallas County, where almost 6,000 votes were lost and just resurfaced recently. And I would point out that one, one person was charged with fraud for voting twice. So I think we can all agree that we need to put 6,000 times as much effort to fix things at the auditing level as to be fixing virtually non-existent voter fraud. Please present some evidence of this fraud, because it doesn’t exist. The Secretary of State Paul Pate has said as much.
Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. All Republican-controlled statehouses that pushed voter ID. In Wisconsin they are having a court battle over this as we speak. In North Carolina and Texas, voter ID laws have been struck down as racially discriminatory and targeted Democrats. About 25 percent of black voters nationally lack a government-issued photo ID. Voting is already very hard for folks with disabilities. And the fact is, minorities and folks who live in poverty vote majority Democratic, the same folks that will be affected by this bill.
The idea of democracy is everyone gets a vote. […]
Chapman asserted that Republicans are “looking to create disenfranchised voters” so as to stay in power while pursuing unpopular policies.
John McCormally of Des Moines spoke immediately after Chapman. His testimony is entirely absent from the official video. An attorney who spent part of last year training other lawyers to do voter protection work, he argued that Iowa currently has excellent election integrity laws that are respected nationwide. But “that would end if the legislature passes this bill.”
I’ve had the opportunity to work with auditors, both Democratic and Republican across this state. Uniformly, they are committed to voting and helping people exercise their constitutional right to vote, and it is telling to me that the auditors’ association is against this bill. There is nothing in this bill that makes voting in Iowa better or easier.
There are so many things in this bill that I do not like that it is difficult to know where to start. So I think I’m just going to tell you about my grandmother, who is 94 and lives by herself in Burlington. Twenty years ago she lost the use of her right arm and had to learn to write with her left. Her signature depends today on whether or not she’s having a good day or a bad day. You’re telling me that her franchise right is subject to the whim of a poll worker who is poorly-trained […]. That is not ok.
If we are to accept the secretary of state’s explanation that the 6,000 votes that were not counted in Dallas County were simply human error, then we should not be introducing the potential for more human error into the process. This legislature does not have a very good track record when it comes to funding public employees. I’ve worked in election offices on election time, and it’s an overwhelming experience, and I understand why human error happens. Temporary employees come in to try and do the job, because there’s too much to do. You cannot put the franchise right of Iowans in the hands of somebody who has had limited training and limited experience. It is simply not acceptable. […]
Linda Murken spoke next. The official video does not include the first part of her testimony, when she explained that in addition to being involved with the League of Women Voters, she’s been an elections official for several cycles, which gives her “special insight” into House File 516. She repeated a point Loehrlein had made earlier in the hearing: legislation on electronic poll books doesn’t need to be connected to any voter ID provision. Some 60 counties are already using e-pollbooks, and there’s no need to ask anyone to show a driver’s license. Murken then delved into the unfairness of forcing many more Iowans to vote with provisional ballots:
Provisional ballots–it’s a very complex process, and it really should be. Because if somebody’s–under current law voting a provisional ballot, they’re registering the same day that they’re voting, and they can’t prove their identification. OK?
But if you’ve got somebody who is pre-registered already, within the deadline, and the county auditor had the opportunity to check all the other [inaudible] to verify that person’s legislation [sic], asking them to provide an ID at the polls–let’s say, they left it at home or for some reason, it crossed in the mail–because this is a complicated system, getting these IDs out. To say, no, you can go to that trouble to pre-register, you did that, your county auditor has okayed you, but no, you’re gonna have to vote a provisional ballot. You’re going to have to take off work [to prove your identity by Thursday after the election]. You’re gonna have to go–you’re in Story County, if you live in Ames, your county seat’s ten miles away. So, you’re gonna have to do that–it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t reward people for doing the right thing.
The other thing is that it will just flood the system with provisional ballots. Provisional ballots take time. They are complex, as I said. They should be reserved for the situations where we really need to know. We’re really looking at an identity issue. We really need to say no, we’re not just going to let you vote now, because you haven’t proved your identity. But doing this–somebody forgot their card at home, and they will, or they lost it, and they will, this just unnecessarily would flood the system. At a time when–things all have to be done [at the county auditor’s office] by Thursday noon. And it’s Tuesday at 9 pm [when polls close]. […]
At 39:46, the official video jumps from Chapman to Murkin in mid-sentence: “go–you’re in Story County, if you live in Ames, your county seat’s ten miles away. So, you’re gonna have to do that–it doesn’t make sense. […]” Disconnected from her explanation of how provisional ballots are supposed to work, it’s hard for the viewer to understand what she’s talking about.
The official video goes on to show Naomi Corrie (for); Gary Leffler (for); and most of the remarks by Linn County Auditor Joel Miller (against). But at 47:54, the video cuts away from Miller and skips to the middle of someone else’s testimony. Here are the last comments from Miller on the official video:
Representative Rizer, you named HF 516 the quote, Election Modernization and Integrity Act, end of quote. How are you modernizing elections if some counties have e-pollbooks and some don’t? How are you modernizing elections if there’s no deadline for every county in the state to have e-pollbooks? How are you modernizing elections if no one can agree upon what an e-pollbook is? The secretary of state has one version, the county auditors- [cuts off]
On the unedited video, you can watch the portion of Miller’s testimony that was excluded from the official record. My transcript, picking up from shortly before where the official video cuts away:
How are you modernizing elections if some counties have e-pollbooks and some don’t? How are you modernizing elections if there’s no deadline for every county in the state to have e-pollbooks? How are you modernizing elections if no one can agree upon what an e-pollbook is? The secretary of state has one version, the county auditors’ association has another.
And what good does it do to modernize the precincts with e-pollbooks 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 e-pollbooks 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 $835,000 to administer elections in calendar year 2016. That’s more than the 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 e-pollbooks scattered about the State.
And a couple of other points I need to dispute, because [of how] they impugned the elections in Linn County by a couple of previous speakers. We do have voters that live in hotels and motels in Linn County. I know: I verified they were there.
We do have people that arrive, voters that arrive to the elections in buses. I know: I’ve seen them [pull up] in buses. They come from independent living facilities and other facilities. And we do have —
At that point, Rizer informed Miller that his time had expired.
The six people who testified next cannot be heard anywhere on the official record. I was unable to catch the name of the man from Council Bluffs who spoke immediately after Miller because of applause from observers. He supported House File 516. Next up was Reverend David Sickelka, a pastor at the Urbandale United Church of Christ and the board chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. Among his reasons for opposing the bill: Sickelka said the signature on his driver’s license probably wouldn’t resemble the way he signs his name on a paper. If a poll worker on election day determined that the signatures didn’t match, he might be forced to use a provisional ballot, and perhaps his vote would not be counted. He also argued that the bill would create long wait times on election day, not only because of the voter ID and signature requirements, but also because eliminating the straight-ticket option would force many Iowans to spend more time in the voting booth filling out their ballots.
The next speaker was Larry Ginter, a third-generation farmer from Marshall County, now retired. He’s against the bill “because it’s not about fraud, but voter suppression.” He cited work by investigative reporter Greg Palast, who has cited research showing only 31 cases of voter impersonation fraud among more than a billion votes cast since 2000. Ginter accused Republican-controlled states of enacting “draconian voting laws that are clearly racist in nature.” Now Iowa Republican legislators want to “join the pack,” he charged. Ginter asserted that the U.S. has become a “laughingstock” because of our voting problems:
Perhaps what we really need is for the United Nations to step in and expose to the world how rotten voting suppression is in our own nation. No, Mr. and Mrs. Republican legislator, you’re not fooling anyone. […]
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, about voting. Voting is a human right. Voting is about dignity, and voting’s about the human spirit. When you suppress votes you destroy that, and you stamp on Lady Liberty.
Next up was Chris Robinson of Des Moines, who echoed comments about how the bill is targeting poor people and discriminates against the elderly and people of color. He then called on lawmakers to restore voting rights to those convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences.
Doug Lane of Robins spoke next against the bill. Excerpts from his testimony, which focused on the hidden costs of enacting voter ID laws:
One vote. All this money and effort, for one vote. A summary of the 2016 general election irregularities showed that just one case of actual voter misconduct was referred to prosecution. That’s one in 1.6 million votes. How much should Iowa taxpayers have to spend to prevent that one vote? […]
Because these barriers violate Iowans’ constitutional rights, the state will undoubtedly get sued, just as Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kansas already have for passing similar laws.
Texas has spent five years and an estimated three and a half million dollars defending its law. South Carolina: three and a half million. Wisconsin: one million. We can expect, then, to spend two and a half to five million dollars, all to chase down one vote. […]
The courts aren’t fooled, and neither are we. We see this bill for what it is: an attempt to disenfranchise voters in order to preserve Republican Party majorities for as long as possible. […]
And now you would have us believe that it’s responsible to spend millions of dollars instituting and defending a voter ID program? All for one vote? Well, that’s not entirely accurate. You see, the one vote [in Iowa in 2016] that was fraudulent was caught, without any of the changes this bill claims are vital to the integrity of this system. So it’s not all for one vote. It’s all for nothing. Yet we’re still talking about integrity.
I couldn’t catch the name of the next speaker, a woman from Urbandale, because of applause for Lane. UPDATE: It was Melissa Holst. She rattled off a laundry list of objections to the bill: it disproportionately affects non-English speakers, the poor, elderly, minorities, disabled, and students. Moreover, “free IDs aren’t actually free for a lot of people.” Stopping a possible handful of fraudulent votes isn’t worth disenfranchising thousands of citizens. She noted that the bill contains no funding for voter education, even though one statewide mailing to registered voters could cost a million dollars. Nor is there any budget for training poll workers. “Without significant investment in outreach and education, voters will be confused, lines will be long, and many will be disenfranchised.”
Holst quoted U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner, who authored a key ruling upholding Indiana’s voter ID law, but more recently has spoken out against such laws as means of suppression employed by Republican politicians.
John Olsen of Ankeny was next to speak. Most of his testimony can be heard on the official video, which jumps from the middle of Linn County Auditor Miller’s remarks to Olsen at 47:54–though the viewer has no idea who is talking, since his introductory sentences were edited out.
Both the official and unredacted videos include full remarks by the final speaker, Republican voter ID fan Kim Hiscox of West Des Moines. Pat Rynard called her a “prime example” of what Democrats fear House File 516 would enable: aggressive poll watchers “who will use every excuse” to keep legitimate voters from casting a ballot. John Deeth had more to say on the mindset of people like Hiscox.
• The official video excluded testimony from five people who advocated for House File 516 and eleven who spoke against it.
• The official video chopped off portions of remarks by several other speakers on both sides of the issue.
• Two county auditors signed up to speak against the Republican bill. The official record of the public hearing erased all of Weipert’s testimony and part of Miller’s.
• Although the official video retained some comments from Zeno, Blake, and others denouncing House File 516 as a means to suppress lawful votes, and Ryan briefly mentioned the Dallas County fiasco, several speakers excluded from the Iowa House recording used even stronger terms to decry the racially disparate impact of voter ID laws. They were also more forceful in contrasting the absence of any impersonation fraud in Iowa with the embarrassing reality of nearly 6,000 ballots going uncounted on Pate’s watch.
• Some speakers whose comments were omitted from the official video questioned the motives of Republicans pushing voter ID, flagged potential problems with signature verification schemes, or spoke in detail about up-front and hidden costs not accounted for in the bill.
I can’t say whether it’s unprecedented for the Iowa legislature’s website to post a heavily redacted video of a public hearing.
I can confirm that of the four public hearings on controversial bills scheduled over two days in early March, only the voter ID discussion was altered.
The official video of the hearing on a bill to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works board (see the legislative website or Iowa House YouTube channel) was a full hour long, just like the video Iowa House Democrats posted live on Facebook.
The official video of the hearing on a bill to pre-empt local ordinances on the minimum wage and other regulations (see the legislative website or YouTube version) was a few minutes shy of an hour and a half, just like the live recording House Democrats posted on Facebook (part 1 and part 2).
The official video of the hearing on a workers’ compensation bill (see the legislative website or YouTube version) ran for nearly an hour and 35 minutes and included all the speakers who can be seen on the House Democrats Facebook video.
Who decided to remove roughly half the testimony from the voter ID public hearing before posting the video online? Did the idea come from Rizer, Iowa House leadership, House GOP staff, or the Secretary of State’s office?
I will seek further information and will update this post as needed, if I can find out which self-styled “election integrity” advocate didn’t have the integrity to make the full record of comments on House File 516 available. Too bad the legislature is exempt from our state’s open records law.
UPDATE: Less than two hours after publishing this post, I noticed that the legislative website’s page on the March 6 hearing now says, “Video not available.”
At this writing, the video remains on the Iowa House of Representatives YouTube channel. I saved a copy in case it gets taken down.
SECOND UPDATE: Hoffman-Zinnel of One Iowa released the following statement on March 20.
“Public hearings offer not only a chance for legislators to hear arguments for and against proposed bills, but a chance for the general public to hear those arguments as well,” Hoffman-Zinnel said. “By removing testimony from the official video record, the Iowa House has denied constituents who were unable to attend the public hearing that chance.
“Further, by cutting testimony that addressed the concerns of transgender Iowans, the Iowa House has silenced a marginalized community that the public often doesn’t hear from. We ask the Iowa House to post the full, unedited video record and give Iowans access to all viewpoints for and against HF 516.”
THIRD UPDATE: Neither Rizer nor Iowa House Chief Clerk Carmine Boal has responded yet to my questions about how this inaccurate video came to be posted on the legislative website.
Asked whether Pate or any staff from the Secretary of State’s office requested that testimony be removed from the public hearing video, Pate’s communications director Kevin Hall replied promptly, “No.”
Some readers have asked whether technical difficulties could have caused this problem. According to Matt Chapman, he went home the evening of March 6 and watched the video of the public hearing on the Iowa legislature’s website. He recalls seeing the video posted in two segments, with his entire comments in the first segment. Those videos are no longer available on the legislative site.
MARCH 21 UPDATE: Iowa House Assistant Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson responded to my query:
This is the first year that we’ve streamed public hearings online and posted the videos afterwards.
Below is the response I received from the nonpartisan LSA’s Computer Services Division about some of the missing video:
Due to a defect in the YouTube API that our video encoding device uses, our live streaming efforts did not produce a quality video archive. To provide a quality archive for the public, we uploaded video that was saved on the camera. During the process of downloading from the camera, stitching together several files, and uploading a single video archive, a portion of the public hearing proceedings was unintentionally omitted.
The full version is now posted. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
As Nelson said, the complete video from the public hearing on House File 516 is now on the legislative website as well as on the Iowa House of Representatives YouTube channel.
Watching the complete version now posted on YouTube, I don’t understand the reference to “stitching together several files.” At the 8:35 mark, where Ken Kline’s testimony was cut off on the altered video, it does not appear that there was any break in recording. I would welcome feedback from experienced video editors: wouldn’t the original recording have been downloaded from the camera as a single file? Why would someone have needed to stitch files together?
Top image: Screen shot of Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert testifying during the March 6 public hearing on House File 516.