Students, officials react to voter identification legislation


By Matthew Rezab, [email protected]

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks with law enforcement and advocates at the Ames Public Library about Iowa’s Safe at Home Act designed to help abuse survivors retain the ability to vote.

Alex Connor

College students move, a lot.

This is why Iowa State political science professor David Andersen says the voter identification requirement being proposed by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate can create a big problem for university students.

Under Pate’s proposal, registered voters who do not already have an Iowa driver’s license or state-issued ID will automatically be provided with a free voter ID card in the mail. 

“A lot of college students have a photo ID and a valid Iowa driver’s license, but it may have their home address or the apartment they lived in last year,” Andersen said. “College students are really hard to track because [their] address changes every year.”

The legislation by Pate, which was unveiled in early January, hopes to implement tighter voter identification laws that include instituting electronic poll books at every Iowa precinct, requiring voter verification at the polling place that could entail signature verification and requiring an ID number for voting via absentee ballot.

The bill, which has been dubbed as election integrity legislation, inevitably hopes to eliminate cheating as described by Pate, and also “instill confidence in our voting system and let every Iowan know that their vote counts.”

Andersen said there isn’t a reasonable explanation for why legislators are concerned with voter fraud and voter integrity. He pinpoints when voter identification, however, first entered the conversation as a controversial topic.

“It goes back to a report filed in 2002. The Bush administration looked at election integrity and they had two very well-known people – former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State Jim Baker,” Andersen said. “They said we should have mandatory photo ID, but if we do this, the government has to send everybody in America a photo ID.

“You can’t put burdens on voters to go out and get one, you have to give them.”

Pate hopes to do this through his proposed legislation. However, student body presidents at the three Iowa regent universities have expressed concern with the bill, saying it could “significantly reverse the progress that we made among college students this past election cycle.”

A root of their concern involves the fact that under Pate’s proposed legislation, university-administered IDs will no longer be applicable when going to the polls. However, many student IDs are already not applicable are under Iowa law because they do not contain an expiration date. 

“When each student is already equipped with a form of credible identification, it is unnecessary and burdensome to require them to jump through additional bureaucratic hoops to practice their fundamental right to vote,” the three student leaders – Cole Staudt, Rachel Zuckerman and Hunter Flesch – wrote in a letter mid-January.

Andersen backed this sentiment, but recognized several of the concerns with the way voter identification currently stands.

“One of the things that is kind of unique about this proposal is it says you cannot use a student ID, which is kind of unusual,” he said. “There’s some reason for saying this because if we’re doing this to protect the integrity of the ballot, you don’t want people who aren’t citizens to be able to vote.

“Well, Iowa State has a lot of international students that come here and get a university ID even though they’re not citizens.”

Pate campaigned on voter identification when he was up for election in 2014, saying that he believes, “like a majority of Iowans,” that “we need a verifiable voter identification tool to be used when voters go to the polls to cast a ballot.”

He argues that, unlike the lump that the majority of voter identification laws are immediately classified as, his bill hopes to more than prevent fraud but also “reduce human error.”

“The last 16 years have seen a lot of suppressive legislation come out,” Andersen said. “The Republican party has pushed some legislation that [invokes] fear of voter fraud that are totally unfounded and as a solution they propose things that wouldn’t actually prevent fraud, but it does suppress the vote.

“It’s hard to justify that.”

The bill – House Study Bill 93 – which was formally introduced to the Iowa Legislature on Feb. 8, will also not affect the way that college students can register and will offer the “exact same opportunities currently available,” Pate said in an email.

“Iowa law requires Election Day registrants to show proof of identification and proof of residence, but the ID cards must contain an expiration date,” he said. “Student voters will be treated just like every other Iowan. If they need a voter ID card, we will supply them with one for free.”

This, however, was also a concern for the three regent student leaders, who argued that while “the proposal claims that students may receive a free voter ID card in the mail if they do not have a driver’s license, these free IDs are only available to existing voters.”

Several Iowa senators have spoken out against the proposed legislation including Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, who said in a statement “the proposals from Secretary Pate turn back the clock by making election policy a partisan issue.”

Voter identification concerns have planted roots in the Democratic Party, with voter identification earning several paragraphs in the 2016 Democratic Party platform.

“We will stop efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to disenfranchise people of color, low-income people, and young people, and prevent those from exercising their right to vote through onerous restrictions,” it says.

Ultimately, Andersen said the proposed legislation is not as strict compared to what other states have implemented or are hoping to, but said it boils down to what is inevitably drafted by legislators.

“I don’t know what our legislators are going to do, it hasn’t come up yet,” Andersen said mid-January. “I’m interested to see if this bill morphs into a mandatory photo ID for everyone, college IDs don’t count, [then] it’s pretty obvious what’s happening.”

The proposal was originally estimated to ring in at a price tag of $1 million, but was later lowered to roughly $300,000. According to a draft of the bill, the legislation would appropriate $550,000 from the state general fund to the revolving loan fund.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said in late-January that while he has yet to see a formal draft of the bill, he believes that a dollar figure of $300,000 is too low of a number when considering the logistics of the proposal.

Quirmbach said from his understanding of the bill, it is a “complete wastage of public dollars if imposing new requirements makes it difficult or obstructs [voters] right to vote.”

He sarcastically commented, “besides being a paperwork nightmare, I think it’s a terrific idea.”

And when citing past experiences with college students and voting, Quirmbach recollected on campaigning for re-election. While he said he always tried to get the most up-to-date information on voters, it can become a real challenge in Ames when it comes to knocking on doors.

“My bottom line is that we have a system that works very well right now,” he said.

The Iowa State Association of County Auditors also announced roughly four weeks after Pate’s proposal that the group voted to register against the legislation.

In regard to additional voter identification in the Iowa Legislature is House File 150. The bill, should it pass, would eliminate election day and in-person absentee voter registration.

While Quirmbach did not speak specifically on HF 150, he acknowledged that students as new voters are less likely to be familiar with the rules of the road – meaning, they may not understand the process enough to register ahead of time or what is required of them to vote firsthand.

Iowa is one of 10 states that currently follow this policy, which was implemented in 2007.

Referring back to Pate’s proposed legislation, Quirmbach ultimately believes from what he’s heard of the legislation that it is a “solution in search of a problem.”

Pate combats this claim in a press release on his website:

“The Election Integrity Act recognizes that the security of elections should never be taken for granted … [the bill] is about making sure no fraud will take place in the future.

“Iowans protect what we value, and we value our elections.”

Correction: This article originally incorrectly misquoted Secretary Paul Pate as saying that the Republican party has pushed legislation that invokes fear of voter fraud. This quote belongs to David Andersen and has been update to reflect as such. The Daily regrets this error.