Iowa passes voting reform package

Iowa passes voting reform package
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Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature has approved a new measure limiting early voting hours and requiring voters to show identification at the polls after weeks of contentious debate that split the House and Senate along party lines.
 
The measure, introduced by Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), will require voters to show one of five forms of state-issued identification when they show up at the polls. Among the forms of identification poll workers will accept: A driver’s license, a non-driver’s license identification, a U.S. passport or military identification card or a special voter verification card that every voter will receive in the mail.
 
If voters don’t show an identification, they would be permitted to fill out a provisional ballot before signing an affidavit attesting to their identification. 
 
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Like other Republican-led election reform packages passed in states like North Carolina, the measure goes well beyond simply requiring voters to show an identification. It would also reduce the number of early voting days from 40 to 29. And it would end straight-ticket voting, an option that allowed a voter to check one box instead of working their way down the entire ballot.
 
The measure passed the state Senate Thursday on an entirely party-line vote. The chamber’s lone independent voted with Democrats against the bill. But Republicans hold the majority in both chambers of the legislature after winning back Democratic-held seats in November’s elections.
 
In a statement issued after the vote, Pate said the measure would streamline Iowa’s elections process without blocking anyone from voting.
 
“My proposal was aimed at modernizing Iowa’s elections technology, streamlining the system, and protecting it against the potential for human error and fraud,” Pate said. “This bill passed by both chambers accomplishes those goals and ensures every eligible Iowan will be able to cast their ballot and will not be turned away.”
 
But Democrats and civil rights groups said the measure amounted to voter suppression.
 
“This is only the latest in a broad strategy to make it harder for qualified voters to vote and roll back decades of progress to expand participation in our elections by all eligible voters,” said Rita Bettis, the legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. “Legislators have done so with the full knowledge that these laws will erect barriers to make it harder for people of color, senior citizens, low-income people, and people with disabilities, in particular, to vote.”
 
The number of actual voter fraud cases prosecuted in Iowa are low: Only 23 people were convicted of voter fraud between 2012 and 2016, according to a review of state data by the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Fifty-five additional cases ended either in dismissal or not guilty findings.
 
Pate’s measure also provided money for counties trying to modernize their voting equipment, especially those that want to purchase electronic poll books.
 
The bill now goes to Gov. Terry Branstad (R), who will likely sign it into law. It would make Iowa the 11th state to enact a strict voter-identification requirement.
 
Several other voter identification laws similar, though not identical, to Iowa’s have been successfully challenged in court in recent years. This week, a U.S. District Court judge in Texas ruled the state legislature unconstitutionally intended to discriminate against minorities when it passed its law in 2011.