Letter to the editor: The intricacies and effects of Iowa’s new voter ID law

The Iowa State Capitol. — photo by Lauren Shotwell
By John Deeth

The only good news in Iowa’s new voter ID law, House File 516, is that it doesn’t take effect right away. So if you’re reading up on this now, you have time to get ready. The problem, of course, is that at the last minute lots of people won’t be ready — which of course is entirely the point.

The registration part of the process will change very little, though it will be more important to get registered and keep your address current. The changes start at the first of the year, when poll workers will begin asking for ID. Next year, 2018, will be a transitional year and voters without proper ID may sign an oath. (You may not like the law, but if you have the right ID, it’ll go faster for you, and the people behind you in line, if you use it.)

The preferred form of ID is an Iowa — specifically Iowa — driver’s license or non-operator ID. (From here on out, if I say “license,” I also mean “or non-driver ID.”) Passports and military or veterans IDs will also be accepted.

There will also be a new voter verification card. This is to keep the ID law safe from court challenges. Rulings on ID laws in other states have said that if an ID is required, the state must provide a free alternative.

However, in Iowa, these free verification cards will be issued only to voters without an Iowa license number. The intent is to, as much as legally possible, force the use of the driver’s license. The Secretary of State’s office says they expect to mail these cards around Dec. 1.

The verification cards will be different from the current voter cards that everyone gets. That will single those voters out for possible extra scrutiny by partisan poll watchers.

If you are pre-registered in your precinct, your ID may have an old address. But if you are registering or changing precincts on Election Day, you also need to provide proof of address. Not just “a piece of mail.” There’s a specific list:

• Residential lease (including dorm contract)
• Property tax statement
• Utility bill
• Bank statement
• Paycheck
• Government check
• Other government document

These must be printed copies, so pulling up your u-bill on your phone won’t work.

Voters without acceptable IDs may also present, along with the proof of address items listed above, the same ID materials that may be used for an Election Day registration (a law that surprisingly was not repealed): a valid out-of-state license, an employer ID or a student ID. The catch: These must include an expiration date — which University of Iowa IDs do NOT have. Voters may also have someone who lives in the same precinct, and who can show ID, attest for them.

Once the ID law is fully in effect in January 2019, voters with no ID may vote a provisional ballot. However, the law clearly states that if you do not present your ID materials promptly after Election Day, your ballot will be rejected.

ID requirements were not the only thing in House File 516. It also includes signature verification. At a training for auditors and staffers, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office said that it was intended primarily to catch cases of the same person signing multiple absentee requests, but the wording of the law is very vague.


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The new law also, cuts early voting days. As of Jan. 1, auditors may not mail ballots or start in-person early voting until 29 days before an election. Previously ballots had to be mailed 40 days before a primary or general election. from 40 to 29 and eliminates straight ticket voting.

The last day to request a mailed ballot will be the same as the voter pre-registration deadline: 10 days before a general election and 11 days before all other elections. The previous deadline was the Friday four days before an election. Also, voters requesting mailed ballots must provide an ID number on their request form. For most voters this will be their Iowa license number. Voters who do not have Iowa licenses will have a PIN on their voter verification card.

In other changes, straight ticket voting, which nearly a third of Iowa voters used in 2016, has been eliminated. And the number of absentee ballot observers and challengers allowed has been increased, making it easier for campaigns to mass challenge early voters, as we saw Republicans do in Johnson County in the 2004 election.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 222.

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