Iowa lawmakers’ top priority is moot point

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Instead of tackling a host of thorny issues before the state, lawmakers are poised to offer a solution to a non-existent problem when they convene in January.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, told the Des Moines-based Westside Conservative Club this week that when they convene the 2017 session on Jan. 9 lawmakers will push through unnecessary laws that will require Iowans to present state-issued identification in order to cast their ballots.

And while I understand that Voter ID has been a GOP goal for some time, I’ve yet to understand why. Voting is a fundamental right, not a privilege. As such, it is protected by more constitutional amendments than any other right Americans enjoy.

It is especially a mystery to me why, when we just completed an election that most agree was a referendum on middle class economic struggles, Iowa Republican leaders view Voter ID as a priority.

There is no credible evidence that impersonation voter fraud rates as a major problem — and that’s the only type of fraud photo identification can prevent.

Former Secretary of State Matt Schultz spent two years and a quarter-of-a-million taxpayer dollars (from the Help American Vote Act) conducting a voter fraud witch hunt. The initiative was undertaken by Shultz in no small part because of broad-based GOP support for his campaign assertions of widespread voter fraud, especially among undocumented immigrants.

Out of the 1.6 million Iowa votes scrutinized by Schultz, only 117 — or .0073 percent — were turned over for additional investigation. Of those, only six led to criminal convictions. Most of what was uncovered were ex-felons who cast ballots, confused by shifting state policy on their ability to vote.

The end result was so dismal that Schultz’s successor, Republican Paul Pate, chose to accept a district-court ruling that the office had overstepped its authority instead of continuing an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Iowans learned national statistics hold true in their state. There is no widespread voter fraud to combat; voter identification laws, no matter how many states employ them, are unnecessary restrictions on a fundamental right.

If state lawmakers want to secure the integrity of elections, several real problems have been waiting.

The legislature could crack down on improper voter registration purges, voter harassment, the state’s lackluster management of felon voter restoration lists, and distribution of false election information,

They could challenge the ongoing practice of outrageous bill amendments filed only for the benefit of headlines on campaign fodder and intended to mislead Iowa voters. Since many of our new crop of lawmakers found traction in such disingenuous tactics, I won’t hold my breath.

They also could concentrate on the message sent by this year’s voters by concentrating on the barriers that keep the middle class from thriving.

Pulling $100 million from $7.2 billion budget in a way that doesn’t further hinder working class Iowans should be their top priority.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on December 17, 2016. Photo credit: Stephen Mally/The Gazette