Students, public officials and action groups are asking Iowa State to make voting easier for students as Iowa’s new voter ID laws will be in partial effect for 2018’s midterm election.
The law, signed in 2017 by former Gov. Terry Branstad and championed by Secretary of State Paul Pate, adds a requirement for voters to present a valid form of identification in order to ensure their eligibility, amongst other regulations, but some say this could pose a threat to the integrity of the system it was designed to protect.
However, parts of the law’s provisions won’t be in effect for this election, due to an injunction filed by Taylor Blair, president of Iowa State’s College Democrats, alongside the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa.
The law also included a soft rollout where much of the law would not be in effect for the 2018 election.
Unregistered voters without a valid ID will be able to vote if they pre-registered by signing an affidavit swearing they are who they claim to be. People who register on election day will still be required to show a valid ID and proof of residency in order to vote.
Students who want to register on election day will be able to verify their address using the “Vote Reg Address” tab on AccessPlus. Although student identification cards are recognized forms of ID under the new law, Iowa State IDs will not be allowed due to their lack of an expiration date.
In a correspondence with Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen, Pate urged the university to modify student ID cards to be acceptable forms of identification for voter registration and to provide official documentation to students which could be used as proof of residence.
Wintersteen acknowledged the request but made no promises about revising ID cards, although the university subsequently added a digital proof of residence page to AccessPlus. Blair said, in his communications with the president’s office, he was told revisions to student IDs would likely be unfeasible.
“They said that it’s too expensive, and they had reasons why it wouldn’t work with expiration dates because people are here for different amounts of time, stuff like that,” Blair said. “And I think that’s sad, because one of the mottos for our school in the strategic plans is something like creating knowledgeable citizens, I can’t remember what the words are exactly, but if we’re not going to help people vote I think that goes against our mission as a school.”
Pate has since created a statewide “task force” featuring representatives from the Iowa regent universities, although Blair said the group has yet to meet. He criticized the university’s delayed action, saying he viewed the waiting on the task force’s decision as an excuse to “shirk their own responsibility.”
Blair said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the university’s response to the new law.
“In my perfect world, our school would be advocating loudly against voter ID laws in general, just because it affects their students,” Blair said. “They say that voting is a habit, and so if we are making it hard for people to vote and they stop voting, it’s unlikely that they’ll continue voting.”
University Relations Director, John McCarroll, said the university’s solution of including proof of residence on AccessPlus would allow students the same benefits without having to invest in new ID cards.
“The university treasurer indicated some time ago that the cost of putting expiration dates on the ISU card would be cost prohibitive,” McCarroll said. “It is my understanding that all three of the public universities are taking similar steps.”
While a digital proof of residence may help to protect the Iowa State student body’s ability to vote, the law could potentially disenfranchise the 11 percent of adult Iowa residents who do not own a driver’s license, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
It would also disproportionately impact certain groups, such as the black and elderly populations, which both have a higher rate of individuals without driver’s licenses, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
These concerns are what led Blair and others to enter the lawsuit.
“We asked for a temporary injunction on certain parts of the law being implemented for this election, until the whole lawsuit is settled or finished, and we won that for the most part,” Blair said. “This is like a stopgap measure, allowing us to use the (student) ID like a Band-Aid. The problem is the ID law, but it’s something that the school should be allowing us to use.”
Pate said this should not be an issue, as voters without an accepted form of identification can receive a free voter ID card upon registering to vote.
However, online voter registration requires either a government-issued ID card or a driver’s license, meaning anyone in need of a voter ID card would be forced to register by mail once the law goes into full effect in 2019.
In order to submit the registration form, the potential voter has to print the document, travel to a post office, pay for postage and then wait to receive their card in the mail. The ACLU argues that these additional obstacles could dissuade voters, and that travel time and the cost of gathering and mailing documents puts a price on voter IDs.
“It’s just an extra hoop for out of state students to jump through, or people who don’t have driver’s licenses, which I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 21,” Blair said. “If you look at the people who these ID bills affect across the nation, like if you look at turnout rates and stuff like that, and look at the rates of who has certain IDs, it disproportionately affects people who tend to vote for Democrats.”
Referencing a statement Pate made in October 2016, Blair said the law was unnecessary because Iowa’s elections were already secure.
“It adds an extra barrier to vote that’s unneeded because our elections are secure,” Blair said. “There were like three or four people caught in Iowa in 2016, but there were millions of votes cast. It’s a solution in search of a problem, because the problem they’re trying to solve, of voter fraud, doesn’t exist to a statistical extent.”
Pate said his statement was not a denial of fraudulent voting in Iowa, and was instead targeted at claims of outside interference in the presidential election. He said Iowa’s vote was not susceptible to Russian hackers or other external entities due to the state’s usage of a paper-based system.
“My response was, I don’t believe there’s massive organized fraud in our elections in Iowa,” Pate said. “Do I think there are bad actors who do commit fraud in voting? Yes. We know that for a fact. We have prosecuted them, and we’ll continue to do that.”
In addition to increasing Iowa residents’ confidence in the security of their elections, Pate said requiring valid identification makes it easier for the state’s electronic poll book to keep track of voters.
Pate pointed to the law’s other elements requiring county auditors to report each case of potential voter fraud to their county attorney, who in turn must report all instances and the results of their investigation to the secretary of state’s office. He said there was no such requirement in place previously.
By streamlining the electronic system and tracking cases of fraud, Pate said he hopes they will be able to ensure that those who are ineligible are not voting and not discouraging eligible voters’ participation. To achieve that, the state will accept several different forms of identification, including tribal IDs issued by Native American reservations.
Pointing to June’s high primary turnout as evidence the new law has not discouraged Iowa voters, Pate said the issue is the misrepresentation of voter ID laws rather than the laws themselves.
Based on the information shared in several Iowa publications, Pate said, many voters may be discouraged from voting this year because they believe they need valid identification when, for the 2018 election, they can register to vote at their polling location by signing an oath swearing their stated identity is accurate.
“We see people continuing to put misinformation out there, and that’s just not right,” Pate said. “That’s the kind of thing that could disenfranchise voters because they could misinterpret something and go well, okay, guess I can’t vote today because I didn’t bring my ID.”
If groups are displeased with the new law, he said, they should work to accurately inform their members as to how they could participate in the election to vote for new representatives who could overturn it. Ultimately, Pate said he stands by the law and believes the small inconvenience of needing to bring an ID is a small price to pay to participate in an election.
“We have to demonstrate some responsibility here,” Pate said. “And if the responsibility is bringing your driver’s license or an ID or whatever is acceptable to go in and vote for the president of the United States or the governor of your state, I’m not seeing how that’s an unrealistic expectation.”
Those looking to pre-register to vote can do so before Oct. 27 by bringing a form to their county auditor’s office or filling out the online registration at https://mymvd.iowadot.gov. Otherwise, voters can register at their polling place when they go to vote Nov. 6.