ACLU of Iowa Speaks Out Against SOS's Voter ID Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
January 31, 2017 5:00 pm

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Iowa
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Any of the following can be attributed to Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director:

The ACLU of Iowa is strongly opposed to Secretary Pate’s bill. It makes voting more difficult and more confusing for voters. It’s also expensive for taxpayers—with no justification, because Iowa has some of the best elections in the country with some of the highest rates of voter participation and zero indication of any voter impersonation fraud. But under Secretary Pate’s proposal, voters would be confused, lines would be longer, and some voters simply would not have their ballots counted because they lack a narrow class of three acceptable photo IDs (an Iowa driver’s license or non-operator ID, passport, or military/veterans ID).

Pollworkers would no longer be able to use a number of reliable forms of ID that we currently use to verify that voters are who they say they are. These include high school, college, or university student IDs, out of state government-issued IDs, like driver’s licenses, or employer-issued ID cards.

And make no mistake: This bill will also disproportionately harm the voting rights of a large number of Iowans, especially African-Americans, the elderly, and people with disabilities. In Iowa, about 11 percent of adult Iowans do not have a driver’s license or non-operator ID. That is 260,000 eligible voters, many of whom who are not accounted for by Pate’s bill, and wouldn’t receive a free ID under it, because they are not already registered to vote. Those numbers become more stark in certain populations: 25 percent of African Americans lack a government issued photo ID nationally. This disproportionate impact will be felt in Iowa, too. In Black Hawk County, for example, where a high percentage of African-Americans live, African-Americans make up 27 percent of voting-age residents who lack an Iowa driver’s license, but only 10 percent of all voting-age residents. Among those Iowans who are age 65 or older, 15 percent lack an Iowa driver’s license or non-operator ID.

The bill creates two classes of voters: those who have one of the three forms of voter ID, and those who don’t. For those who don’t, the bill effectively ends same-day voter registration. That’s because for those people who don’t pre-register 11 days before the election and who don’t have one of the three forms of ID, they won’t be able to get a “free ID” mailed to them in time. After the delayed enforcement date of July 1, 2019, those voters would only be able to vote provisionally. But in a Catch-22 situation, provisional ballots won’t be counted if a voter doesn’t have one of the three forms of photo ID, or they can’t produce it in time for the deadline (by Thursday noon following the election).

For weeks now, Pate has been spinning talking points promising a free ID for all voters, and low costs to the state. But as we feared, his bill only provides for a free ID to be mailed to registered voters. A free ID won’t be sent to eligible voters who are not currently registered.

The bill’s signature verification requirements of both in-person voting and absentee ballots have no standards at all, and will be done by poll-workers with no special training in handwriting analysis. For absentee ballots that are rejected because of a flagged signature, voters may not have enough time to provide additional signatures or update their signatures on file to have their absentee ballots counted.

And the bill’s requirement of providing the free ID even to the already registered voters is totally contingent on annual appropriations by the legislature, even though the burden on the voter to provide the ID before voting is not.

Secretary Pate has made assurances that no one will be turned away from voting. But all he’s talking about is providing the right to cast a provisional ballot. That federal law requirement only gives people a chance to come in later with documents to have that ballot counted. But after July 1, 2019, there will be no way for voters to have those ballots counted, unless they have one of the three forms of photo ID, if they have missed the pre-registration deadline. Voting, but then not having your vote counted, is not voting.

The bill has no provision for funding for voter education and outreach. Full stop. There isn’t even a plan for it, beyond the notice required to be posted of an upcoming election. No outreach to schools or National Voter Registration Act public assistance agencies; no TV, billboards, or direct mail. With Pate’s proposal, Iowa would go from being one of the best-run and easy to understand election systems to one of the most confusing. Without significant investment in outreach and education, voters will be confused, lines will be long, and many will be disenfranchised.

This bill is bad for democracy in Iowa because it’s bad for voters in Iowa, and it should be rejected.

The bill can be found at

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.