E-bills can now be used for voter registration, and Sec. of State Paul Pate wants credit for it

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. — official photo

Last year, the legislature made it harder to vote in Iowa by imposing new ID requirements and cutting early voting hours, but a bill signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last week will make it easier to register to vote. Iowans will now be able to use emailed utility bills, instead of just snail-mailed paper ones, as proof of residency when registering to vote. It’s a change many people have been advocating for years.

“We’re at the stage where many people don’t get paper statements for anything at home,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert told Little Village in an interview earlier this month. “Cable bill, phone bill, all that comes via email.”

Like many other county auditors and members of the Iowa legislature, Weipert has long been in favor allowing people registering to vote to use electronic documents displayed on cell phones as proof of residency.

But according to the official Twitter account of the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Paul Pate, the current secretary of state, is the one who changed the law.

The Pate-aggrandizing tweet caught the eye of State Rep. Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton.

In response, the official Secretary of State’s office account conceded that the little people of the legislature did play a role in supporting Pate.

Republicans in the state legislature this session complained that Iowa Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat, was using official resources for self-promoting by having his name and photo on the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt, a site that helps people find property or funds held by the state to which they entitled. Whatever benefit Fitzgerald derives from being the smiling face of the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt is irrelevant in this year’s election, because Fitzgerald is facing no opposition in his reelection bid.

Pate, on the other hand, will have an opponent on the November ballot.

There are two Democratic candidates for Secretary of State — Deidre DeJear and Jim Mowrer — competing in the June primary. The winner will face Pate, the lone Republican in the race, in the general election.

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Despite the victorious tweet, the change to voter registration law has not attracted as much media attention as another change Pate recently made. Last month, Pate amended his state-mandated Personal Financial Disclosure Statement, which requires state officials to disclose “each business, occupation, or profession in which you were engaged during the covered year and the nature of that business.” Pate’s original filing on April 16 omitted his ownership stake in four businesses.

The day after the initial filing, Ryan Foley of the Associated Press reported that Pate had omitted his ownership stake in PRG Group, which owns a strip mall in Hiawatha and a storage business in Cedar Rapids. Responding to a request for comment from the AP, Pate said he didn’t need to disclose the business, since elsewhere on the same form he disclosed he received payments from unspecified rental properties.

But on April 30, the final day to submit or update financial disclosure statements, Pate updated his statement to include not just his ownership stake in PRG Group, but his ownership role in three additional businesses: PEP Group, which owns a storage facility in Cedar Rapids; Pate Real Estate Holdings; and Pate Asphalt Systems. He also changed the description of his role in the one business he had previously listed, stating that he is the CEO of PM Systems Corp., a paving company, rather than its president.

Pate explained his decision to amend his financial disclosure report in a state on the Secretary of State’s site: “I believe transparency is a necessary component of good government, and although I am not required to, today I filed an amendment to my official disclosure report that specifically lists all of my business ventures.”

But on his campaign site, Pate sounded a more Trumpian tone. The day following the AP report, Pate was trying fundraise off it, with a post titled: “Liberal lies and fake news, and I’m the target.” In the post, Pate claimed, “The unaccountable liberal media is circulating fake news about me in an attempt to discredit my integrity and hurt my re-election,” [boldface and underlining in the original] and asked for donations of “whatever you can afford to my campaign so I can continue to combat this story.” The site does not have any follow-up posts explaining that Pate updated his disclosure report to reflect his ownership of the four businesses he had previously omitted.