State funding too tight for unnecessary Voter ID

Secretary of State Paul Pate says a slate of expensive proposals will clinch the future integrity of Iowa elections. Now he needs to prove it.

As telegraphed by key GOP lawmakers last month, a key component of Pate’s upgrades is Voter ID. This piece requires voters to produce approved forms of identification before casting ballots. Pate suggests Iowa-issued driver’s licenses, military-issued identification cards and passports.

The Iowa State Capitol building is seen after short snow storm the day after the caucuses in Des Moines on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

As I wrote in a column three weeks ago, this is a solution in search of a problem.

The voter fraud witch hunt conducted by Pate’s Republican predecessor scrutinized 1.6 million Iowa votes and asked for further investigation of 117, or .0073 percent. Of those, only six led to criminal convictions.

Iowans learned that the tiny fraction of a percent of prosecuted voter fraud — .000375 percent of all ballots — was overwhelmingly perpetrated by former felons confused by state executive orders regarding when and how their voting rights were restored. More important, not one of those votes altered the outcome of an election.

Like Pate proclaimed in October 2016: “This state has a pretty darn good track record and I really resent anybody trying to blemish it.” Ditto.

The only type of fraud Voter ID laws address is in-person voter impersonation — which is not a significant issue in any state, and especially not in Iowa. What Voter ID accomplishes is disenfranchisement among minorities, low-income residents and older voters.

Even in states where Voter ID has been paired with free state identification cards, women, and especially elderly women, are hard pressed to jump through the hoops necessary to access the free IDs.

Still Pate says this is one of the things Iowa must do — not because the state needs the protection today, but because it may need it in the future. Enacting Voter ID laws in conjunction with electronic poll books for signature verification will shorten wait times at polling places, he said during Thursday’s press conference. Frankly, I wasn’t aware that long lines were a problem — in two decades of Iowa voting, I’ve never had to wait more than a couple of minutes.

For the future and for promised convenience, Pate wants the state to initially invest $1 million — $500,000 in start-up cost for voter ID cards and $500,000 in revolving funds for county electronic poll books. In the future, the state will need to invest an estimated $35,000 annually for the IDs.

Other additional programs like county staff training, post-election audits and county compliance certifications are part of the mix too. There’s no word yet on how much of the estimated cost will be shouldered by county auditors.

When Pate makes the proposed bill he’s shared with GOP lamwkers public we’ll know more of the specific details.

Even without a closer look, I have a budget-friendly proposal: Pass Voter ID with a trigger clause; activate the law when and only if convictions of voter fraud reach .05 percent of ballots cast in a general election.

Otherwise and until Pate is ready to show his work and justify the urgency, the state has too many immediate needs to waste taxpayer funds on baseless wish lists with more negatives than positives.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on January 7, 2017. Photo credit: Andy Abeyta/The Gazette