Iowa’s upcoming primary will mark the first statewide test of a new law that requires voters to show identification at the polls, and both state officials and voting advocacy groups say they’re keeping a close watch on its rollout.
The law, which was passed last year and is being phased in, requires that voters be asked for approved ID in 2018. Those without that identification have the option of signing an oath verifying their identity to cast a regular ballot. Those without proper identification in 2019 will have to vote by provisional ballot, requiring them to return within a few days with ID for ballots to count.
There have been a handful of local elections in Iowa this year where some of the law’s provisions have been in effect, but Tuesday is the first statewide snapshot.
“It will be another kind of data point,” said Daniel Zeno, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, an organization that has been critical of the law. “Not just for us but for the state of Iowa.”
Under the law, acceptable forms of identification will be an Iowa driver’s license, an Iowa non-driver’s ID, a new non-photo voter card, a U.S. passport or passport card, a military identification or a veterans ID.
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Iowa has been doing outreach on the law for several months around the state. Mary Rae Bragg, the group’s president, said some of her volunteers have reported confusion among senior citizens in the past several weeks, including cases where elderly individuals say they mistakenly threw away the non-photo voter card sent by the state. The cards, which include a unique PIN, were sent to registered voters who don’t have an Iowa driver’s license or Iowa non-driver’s ID.
Bragg said her volunteers are trying to educate people in time for everyone to cast ballots. She said for the elderly, it’s a shift to vote one way for decades and then face new rules.
“There’s bound to be cracks that people fall through,” Bragg said in reference to older Iowans. “We’re doing the best that we can to make sure that, wherever we can, we are alerting folks.”
Bragg said she’s worked closely with the office of Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, the state’s top elections official, to do as much voter outreach as possible. Pate, a vocal proponent of the law, has used a combination of social media and in-person outreach to educate the public, according to documents provided by his office under a public records request. Pate says it includes digital, print, radio and television.
Pate said in a statement his office has attempted to prepare every Iowan for the election law changes and will continue to do so.
“If voters have questions about their specific situation, we encourage them to reach out to their county auditor or our office with questions,” he said.
County auditors indicated their staffs have spent months preparing for Tuesday and the early voting period that began near the start of May. Early voting was shortened under the law by 11 days and previously would have begun in late April.
The shorter window for early voting has not diminished preliminary voter turnout. Pate’s office said as of last Thursday afternoon, more than 46,000 Iowans had requested an absentee ballot, setting a primary record that Pate attributed to competitive statewide and congressional races.
Fremont County Auditor Dee Owen said her office in southwest Iowa has also been in close contact with Pate’s office regarding educational voting material. Owen said a new software program for accessing voter information also should allow poll workers to quickly address any issues.
“We’re very confident,” Owen said. “I feel like we have really been educated by the secretary of state and prepared for what to expect and what’s coming.”
Separately, a new lawsuit announced last week may play a role in Tuesday’s election or in November. The Iowa chapter of the League of Latin American Citizens and a college student are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which claims the law violates the state constitution and seeks an injunction to halt it. Pate in a statement called the move a “baseless and politically motivated lawsuit,” which he alleged was “apparently timed to disrupt the June 5 primary elections.”
In Johnson County, home to Iowa City and one of the state’s most populous counties, Auditor Travis Weipert said several people have come in to vote without ID during early voting. It’s led to longer than expected lines, which he called “concerning.”
“If we’re already seeing slow-down just based on having to show ID and all of those processes, what’s it going to be like on Election Day if we have record turnout?” he asked.
Weipert, who is also president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, said it’s possible Johnson County’s experiences will not be a reflection of issues on Tuesday. He said whatever happens, he’ll get feedback through data and some straightforward methods.
“I always measure it by how few angry emails I receive from voters,” he said.