Secretary of State holds Safe at Home roundtable


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.

Matthew Rezab

In Ames alone there have been 246 domestic violence convictions during the past five years.

Chillingly similar statistics around the state and the nation prompted state legislators to unanimously pass the Safe at Home Act in May, making Iowa the 34th state nationwide to adopt similar legislation. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate led a roundtable discussion among advocates and law enforcement Tuesday at the Ames Public Library.

The Safe at Home Act is an address confidentiality program designed to provide a substitute address for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking or stalking. Under the new law a victim may have his or her physical address removed from voter registration logs and some official government records by completing application forms prescribed by the Secretary of State’s office.

“This is a program that helps protect [voting rights] and helps give victims back the opportunity to vote,” Pate said.

Participants in the Safe at Home program will have an official address at the Secretary of State’s Office. All mail will be forwarded from there to wherever the participant requests, whether that be a P.O. box, a relative’s home or the participant’s physical address.

The official address must be accepted at city, county and state offices, such as city clerks, county clerks, county treasurer, schools, the Department of Transportation and other similar offices. Private organizations must also accept the official mailing address. Participants may also receive a new driver’s license containing the official address instead of their physical address. 

Because only Safe at Home program staff members will have access to the secure database, participants are required to vote by absentee ballot, which will be provided by the Secretary of State’s office.

For now, no formal complaint or protective order is necessary for entry into the program.

“Speaking with some of the advocates, they were very concerned,” Pate said. “It’s tough enough to get these people to come to law enforcement to begin with.”

ACCESS Shelter Program Advocate Virginia Griesheimer said sometimes it is difficult for survivors of abuse to make an official complaint because of the fear of repercussions at home.

Once signed up, the participant is in for four years, with the opportunity to renew when the period has expired.

Pate said he is traveling the state for roundtable discussions to help troubleshoot potential problems and gather new ideas to make Safe at Home more beneficial to survivors of abuse.

“When we put this bill together we modeled it in comparison to Missouri, Minnesota and California,” Pate said. “Minnesota has about 2,000 people in the program at any given time. … We’re looking at 500 or so, we don’t know.”

Kevin Hall, secretary of state communications director, said the program is designed for victims who want to become survivors, and in most cases will need to relocate because the Safe at Home Act cannot erase information already published online.

The program will formally be in place by Jan. 1, 2016, but Pate said he anticipates having Safe at Home ready to go before then.

“It is not the solution for all that is wrong in our society when it comes to domestic abuse and violent crime,” Pate said. “It is one resource we want to get out to the advocates who are on the front line.”