With his own difficult statewide reelection race on the line in 2018, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate today proposed legislation that would effectively limit the amount of Iowans who could vote. Who does his plan target the most? The very voters who would be less likely to vote for him.
Pate announced today his ideas for a restrictive voter identification legislation that he hopes the Republican-run Statehouse will pass. It also includes shortening the amount of time absentee balloting is allowed and signature verification at the polls.
The reality of enacting such a program would mean it would be difficult for students, older retirees who don’t drive anymore and many lower income Iowans to vote, even with Pate’s plan to provide free ID’s. While Republicans claim such measures are intended for voter integrity, in reality their main goal is to keep people who might vote against Republicans from voting.
Throughout the country, Republicans in recent years implemented new voter suppression laws that disproportionately affected populations that tend to support Democrats. In Wisconsin a new voter identification bill pushed through by Republicans was estimated to impact 300,000 people who wouldn’t have the proper papers to vote. The effort seemed to work as 60,000 fewer people voted in Milwaukee County in 2016 than did in 2012, effectively handing the state to Republicans. Their statewide turnout was the lowest in 20 years, with many election officials explaining the restrictive identification mandate as the cause.
Pate’s actions are also clearly a so-called solution in search of a problem. The simple fact of the matter is that voter fraud is extremely rare in Iowa, and in-person fraud, which is what voter identification might prevent, is basically nonexistent. The most prominent case of voter fraud this past election in Iowa was the Trump supporter who voted twice because she feared the election was “rigged.” Her actions were quickly discovered, she was charged with the crime and her vote didn’t count. The system worked as it was supposed to, and no amount of voter identification would have stopped this specific instance. Indeed, Pate reiterated today his belief that Iowa elections are clean and fair.
But that’s not what Pate’s actions today are about.
Pate won his old job at the Iowa Secretary of State’s office in 2014 by a very narrow margin, winning by just 20,000 votes over Democrat Brad Anderson. It was the closest statewide race in a Republican wave year, where Pate’s fellow Republicans cruised to victory in many campaigns. Heading into 2018, Pate is likely the most endangered statewide official, especially if Donald Trump falters in the first years of his presidency.
For much of his tenure, Pate has attempted to portray a more moderate or statesman-like role in contrast to his predecessor, Matt Schultz. That wasn’t always the case, like when he toed the party line with his harsh criticism of the Supreme Court case that dealt with voter rights restoration for former felons.
However, with today’s new push for voter suppression legislation, it’s clear Pate wants to use his position as Iowa’s elections chief solely to benefit his party and his reelection by making sure fewer people vote. Republicans in the Statehouse will eagerly go along with it, and Governor Branstad yesterday indicated he’s open to the idea.
Their full embrace actually makes for an interesting dynamic as the new legislative session convenes. Republicans are touting a position of strength, with their new majority in the Iowa Senate and full control over Iowa government. Yet if they were really all that confident that the policies they were about to enact were what the people of Iowa actually want, they wouldn’t need this sham legislation to undermine Iowa democracy. Instead, Republicans like Pate are planning on implementing one-party rule by keeping people from voting, because it may turn out their vision to remake Iowa is actually pretty unpopular.
Plain and simple, it’s anti-democracy.
by Pat Rynard