Iowa’s new voting restrictions deepen our democratic crisis

iVote president, Ellen Kurz, talks about Iowa's new elections bill that would gut its same-day voter-registration program. For example, the bill requires any Iowan who changes addresses between elections to provide documentation proving their residency that is less than 45 days old.

From Des Moines Register

By Ellen Kurz and Brad Anderson 

Every news cycle seems to bring more of the same — chaos, anger and deep division. Our television screens and our social media elevate the most extreme voices and nowhere do we hear a civil debate on important issues like education, jobs, climate change, taxes and the choices facing our state and our country today.

Elections are the great equalizer, where no one vote or voice is more important than the other and everyone’s vote is counted, whether you have 100,000 Twitter followers, or you don’t own a computer. It is a true Iowan value and tradition to engage in our democracy by the simple yet critical act of voting. At a time when the country is experiencing such turmoil we need the participation of more citizens, not less.

It is not an overstatement to say the future of our democracy depends on the state of the democratic process, or, simply put, ensuring everybody can vote and that their votes are counted.

That’s why the new elections bill signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad is not just wrongheaded but dangerous. The bill was framed as a response to voter fraud, yet systemic voter fraud in Iowa has never been proven. So why did Republicans push and sign into law a new, expensive elections bill filled with red tape? For the first time in Iowa’s history, Republicans, led by Secretary of State Paul Pate and state legislators, passed new laws aimed at helping them win elections. Now we are learning these new laws are a confusing mess, and the potential consequences on our democracy are severe.

While the laws will be framed as simply requiring an ID from voters, that provision is a Trojan horse for a laundry list of even more draconian requirements. The new laws add more than 50 subsections to Iowa’s current election laws. Collectively, these changes are so confusing that the secretary of state’s office has been tied in knots trying to figure out how to implement these changes. If the Republican drafters of the bill can’t figure it out, we can be sure that many eligible Iowa voters won’t be able to either. Perhaps that could have been their goal all along.

The new laws gut Iowa’s nation leading, same-day voter-registration program. For example, it requires any Iowan who happens to change addresses between elections to provide documentation proving residency less than 45 days old.

Sounds simple, but that requirement is not possible for many Iowans who move within the state close to Election Day, or for new voters who aren’t likely to have the required documentation, such as a piece of mail from a government agency at a new address. Assuredly, even the many Iowans who do have this documentation won’t anticipate needing to tote around their old mail on Election Day.

Iowa’s college students would be disproportionately disenfranchised by these provisions, and that’s not a coincidence — historically college students lean Democratic.

The law also slashes Iowa’s absentee voting rules, reducing how far in advance of elections absentee ballots are mailed and absentee voting locations are opened to 29 days, from 40. This is also not a coincidence, because Iowa Democrats have spent decades building early vote programs and urging their voters to vote early. Cutting 11 days out of early voting is clearly meant to help Republicans hold onto power while damaging Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts. 

Iowans have rightfully taken pride over the years in our tradition of being at the forefront of citizen participation. In previous generations Republicans and Democrats in Iowa worked together to develop new ways to make voting easier. It set the state apart. At a time where our society needs the sober, steady, common sense Iowa values more than ever, Iowa’s secretary of state, Legislature, and governor have, instead, taken the state backward.

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