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Republican leaders in the Iowa Legislature say they want to pass a Voter ID bill in 2017, but they have not yet decided what that bill will look like. Supporters of voter ID bills say they want to make sure our election systems are secure; those against say there have not been problems and requiring IDs only makes it more difficult for some people to vote.  

We know that Iowans with disabilities face a number of barriers when it comes to voting, and requiring IDs adds another to that list. Iowans are fortunate to have many ways to vote, and our election system is widely viewed as one of the best in the country.  On top of that, our state has seen only a few incidents of voter fraud, most of which would not have been fixed by showing an ID.  

This year legislators will need to balance their hope to guard against voter fraud with the need to keep voting simple and accessible.  That may be tough.

Here are a few statistics to remember when you think about voters with disabiities: 

  • 1 in 6 eligible Iowa voters has a disability.  The number of eligible voters with disabilities is growing faster than the number of eligible voters without disabilities, according to a Rutgers study
  • People with disabilities vote at much lower rates than people without disabilities - that gap is about 12% (or 3 million voters nationally).  
  • Absentee ballots are often proposed as a way to lessen this gap, but the same Rutgers study found that the majority of voters with disabilities said they would rather vote in person.

There are a number of bills that have been introduced to date, including what some consider to be a "middle ground" approach offered by the Secretary of State Paul Pate.  You can read more about Secretray Pate's legislation in the next article, but here is a quick review of the bills out there now:

  • Senate File 47, which was introduced by Sen. Brad Zaunrequires all voters to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote in person.  The bill does allow individuals without identification to prove their identity at the polls by signing an oath and having another person who has an acceptable ID confirm identity (they must also sign an oath). In addition, hospitalized voters or voters living in a long-term care facility who apply to vote by absentee ballot must also show an ID.    
  • The Secretary of State's "Election Integrity Act" (which includes voter ID requirements) is House Study Bill 93.  It does not require a photo ID, but does require a voter to show proof of identity at the polls.  The voter can either use his/her Iowa driver's license or non-operator's ID card, or can show a free voter registration card that will be given automatically to any voter that does not have a current driver's license or ID card.  This voter registration card will not have a photo, but will have a bar code that can be easily scanned at the polls.  This number will also be used when requesting an absentee ballot.  You can read more about this issue here, and read more in the article below.  There are many other things included in this bill - requiring post-election audits to make sure vote totals are accurate and election laws were followed, requiring counties to use electronic poll books (so pollworkers can swipe ID cards and improving voting process), establishing deadlines for groups to submit voter registration cards, and more.   This bill has been assigned to the House State Government Committee, and a five-member subcommittee of Rep. Ken Rizer (Chair), Rep. Kevin Koester, Rep. Lee Hein, Rep. Vicki Lensing, and Rep. Cindy Winckler.
Other bills addressing voting include:
  • House File 150 eliminates same-day voter registration.  Currently Iowans can register to vote at the polls by showing proof of identity (photo ID) and proof of where they live (utility bill, government document with address on it).  Ten Republicans Representatives introduced this legislation (Representatives Salmon, Wheeler, Hager,Sheets, Fisher, Gassman, Watts, Heartsill, Baxter); it is currently assigned to a subcommittee that includes Representatives Koester, Highfill, and Hunter.
  • Senate File 60 eliminates the ability to check one box to vote for all members of the same party (aka - vote a "straight party ticket").  This legislation was introduced by Sen. Chelgren; subcommittee is Senators Smith, Chapman, and Danielson.
  • Senate File 61, House File 167, and House File 201 all allow 17-year olds to register and vote in a primary if they will be 18 years old by the general election.  The bills, sponsored by Sen. Bisignano, Rep. Jake Highfill, and Rep. Abby Finkenauer  let new voters pick their party's candidate in the primary election, even if they are not yet 18 years old (but will be 18 by the time of the November general election).
  • Similarly, House File 56 allows a voter to register to vote at the age of 16, so that they can do that at the time of getting their drivers license.  A new initiative by the state's Department of Transportation and the Secretary of State's office allows people to register to vote at the time they get their driver's license; those getting their license at 16 would be able to register to vote if this bill passes (but they wouldn't be allowed to vote until they were 18).  This bill is sponsored by Rep. Zach Nunn. 
Other bills include HF 55 (which allows voters to request absenttee ballots online), abd  HF 78 and HF 247 (which allow a person to request to vote absentee ballot permanently - so they don't need to make the request every election).  All voting bills are in the House & Senate State Government Committeees.

Both sides of the debate agree on one thing: voting is one of our most important rights.  One side wants to protect it against anyone who might want to rig our election system or commit voter fraud; the other side wants to keep it simple so that voters do not have to jump through extra hoops to exercise their constitutional right.