Iowa Secretary of State says he’s not trying to undermine a judge’s ruling on voter ID

I Voted Today stickers, shown Oct. 26, 2016. — photo by Zak Neumann

On Friday, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate issued a statement explaining his office was not encouraging county-level election officials to ignore a court order suspending parts of Iowa’s 2017 voter ID law. The statement was necessary, because on Thursday a top elections official from the Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) told a meeting of the Iowa County Auditor Association that auditors should disregard the court order.

The remarks by Ken Kline, deputy commissioner of elections, came two days after Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano issued a temporary injunction preventing the state from enforcing parts of the voter ID law requiring signature matching on absentee ballots, as well as the required inclusion of voter verification numbers on absentee ballots. The injunction also restored the 11 days of the early absentee voting period the law had eliminated, and ordered the SOS to stop publishing misleading information about the voter ID law.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller was one of the auditors to publicly object to Kline’s statement. “I’m sure they scripted it before they went up there,” Miller told the Associated Press. “They’re supposed to be the know-it-alls on this particular topic and they flubbed up.”

Asked for comment by the AP, Pate’s office said that Kline was aware the injunction had been issued but wasn’t aware it had taken effect when he made his remarks.

The injunction issued on July 24 came in response to a motion in a lawsuit filed in May by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (LULAC). LULAC argues the new law places undue burdens on Iowa voters, especially minority voters, and will suppress voter turnout.

Pate’s office claims all the provisions of the law, which Pate helped write, are needed to ensure the integrity and fairness of Iowa elections, by deterring and eliminating voter fraud.

In her ruling, Romano said the state has a compelling interest in guaranteeing fair elections, but found attorneys representing the SOS had failed to provide convincing evidence the suspended provisions of the law will advance that goal.

Romano also found the public education campaign to inform voters about the voter ID law was misinforming the public, and would likely prevent some voters from casting a ballot. “The State offers no justification for promulgating materials that seemingly only aim to promote an inaccurate depiction of current Iowa law,” Romano wrote, ordering the SOS to stop using those materials.

Following the publication of the injunction, LULAC issued a statement saying “we are grateful that Judge Romano made it clear that the state of Iowa should not restrict our right to vote in any form.”

Pate, on the other hand, issued a statement announcing his office would immediately appeal the injunction, and claimed people from out of state are attempting to undermine Iowa’s elections. (LULAC’s legal expenses are being paid by the national progressive political group, Priorities USA.)

“I am disappointed to learn a temporary injunction was placed on some parts of Iowa’s Election Modernization and Integrity Act today,” Pate said his in July 24 statement. “Out-of-state dark money and Washington, D.C. lawyers have come into Iowa to try to overturn our election laws. The people of Iowa overwhelmingly support voter ID and their elected representatives enacted a law that makes it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”

But as the injunction explained, Pate’s office did not even try to argue that eliminating 11 days from the early absentee voting period would prevent election fraud. Instead, it claimed early voting does not deserve the same level of legal protection voting on Election Day does, so the state should be free to experiment with the early voting period. Romano rejected this argument, stating “The Legislature is not entitled to a limitless ability to regulate fundamental rights.”

The statement Pate issued in conjunction with Attorney General Tom Miller on Friday was much more restrained that his July 24 statement. According to the Friday statement:

At all points in the LULAC lawsuit, the Office of the Secretary of State has rigidly followed the advice provided to them [sic] by the Attorney’s General Office.

The injunction is in effect, but the Attorney General’s Office has filed applications for appeal and emergency stay of the district court order with Iowa Supreme Court.

Unless the state Supreme Court stays or overturns it, the temporary injunction will remain in place until LULAC’s lawsuit is resolved.

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