Iowa Poll: Access to voting trumps voter fraud concerns

From the Des Moines Register

By Jason Noble

A wide majority of Iowans believe it’s more important to ensure ballot access for eligible voters than to guard against voting by those who are ineligible.

That result, captured in The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll, casts new light on a debate that has been raging in the state and across the nation for years over the appropriate balance between ballot access and security.

Seventy-one percent of poll respondents say it’s more important that every eligible, registered voter is able to vote, compared with 25 percent who say it’s more important that no ineligible person “slips through the cracks” to cast a vote.

“Americans care about preventing voter fraud, but they care more about making voting free, fair and accessible,” said Myrna Perez, an expert on voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Voting-rights issues have long been seen as having a partisan bent, with Republicans supporting and pursuing photo ID requirements and other voter-screening measures at the ballot box, while Democrats push for early voting, same-day registration and other steps to drive turnout.

The poll results, though, show support for increased access regardless of party. Sixty-three percent of self-identified Republicans favor ballot access as more important against 33 percent who see security as the greater priority. Eighty-four percent of Democrats say it’s more important for eligible voters to vote, compared to 14 percent who say guarding against fraud is more important.

The poll of 703 Iowa adults was conducted Feb. 23-26 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Concerns about voter fraud have been “blown out of proportion,” said poll respondent Pam Nystrom, a Democrat and retired educator from Boone. “I do feel there are people trying to put roadblocks in front of people.”

Poll respondent Issac Carter told the Register that voting is a civic responsibility and shouldn’t be overly burdensome for eligible voters.

“I feel it’s an obligation to get out and vote,” said Carter, a self-identified Republican. “If you are registered to vote and you’re of age to vote, then you should definitely get out and do that.”

But Carter, 32, added that he supports voter ID requirements. He’s mayor of the town of Alta Vista in northeast Iowa and won the post by just two votes. “One vote does matter, and I’m proof of that,” he said.

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz made voter ID the centerpiece of his 2010 campaign, and has devoted much of his attention in office over the last three years to identifying and prosecuting voter fraud and enhancing ballot security.

Among other initiatives, his office partnered with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation for a nearly two-year probe into voter fraud cases, resulting in dozens of criminal referrals, charges in about 25 criminal cases and, to date, six guilty pleas.

Schultz has repeatedly defended that effort, which his office says will cost at least $224,000, as worthwhile because even a single instance of voter fraud represents a loss of the franchise for an eligible voter whose ballot was canceled out.

“How many Iowans want to raise their hands and say, ‘Yes, I’m willing to have my vote get canceled out because someone cheated?’ ” Schultz asked in an interview with the Register late last year. “I think we need to have zero tolerance when it comes to cheating.”

The poll doesn’t address specific policies like voter ID or online voter registration that are favored by one party or the other. But Perez believes the poll suggests that the assertions made by leading Republican voices on the issue are not widely shared.

“This result reflects a clear communication to representatives that rather than spending energy making it harder to vote, they should give voters what they want, which is more access to the polls,” Perez said.

Schultz’s push for a voter ID law has not gained traction in the Iowa Legislature, and a rule his office enacted to identify noncitizens registered to vote was struck down by a Polk County judge last week. His office has pledged to appeal. County attorneys are still sifting through many of the fraud cases identified by his investigation.

Schultz will not seek a second term as secretary of state, but instead is running for Congress in Iowa’s 3rd District. Republican Paul Pate has declared for the statewide office and said he’ll remain focused on voter fraud, although he has not embraced all of Schultz’s initiatives.

The leading Democratic candidate for the office, Brad Anderson, has staked out ballot access as a top priority for his campaign, offering a five-point plan for making Iowa tops in the country for voter turnout.


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