Challengers of Iowa Voter ID Law Advance Case

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – An Iowa judge advanced a challenge Friday to new voting restrictions that, among other things, classify ID cards from Iowa State as an invalid form of voter ID.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate had based his bid to dismiss the case in Polk County District Court on jurisdiction. In a June 11 motion, Pate argued that the law’s challengers improperly married a constitutional question with an appeal of state agency actions.

Though the challengers disagree, they brought a competing motion to resolve such a problem by splitting the case in two.

Judge Karen Romano sided with the challengers Friday afternoon following a three-hour hearing, agreeing to sever the administrative claim as a separate cause of action from the constitutional issues.

Romano promised as well to issue a ruling in the near future on whether Iowa’s new restrictions on absentee balloting should be enjoined ahead of the November midterm elections. Since the ID requirement is not slated to effect until 2019, allegations concerning it are not as pressing.

As for the absentee-ballot changes, however,  the state in November will require that absentee ballots include a voter identification number and that election officials verify signatures on absentee ballots.

Bruce Spiva, an attorney for the challengers with Perkins Coie, told Judge Romano on Friday that these new requirements are a “severe burden on the right to vote.”

The new absentee ballot restrictions will make voting more difficult for “countless Iowans,” Spiva said, adding that “perhaps thousands will be completely disenfranchised” if election officials toss out their ballots.

Spiva also said that voters could be discouraged by a provision of the new law that shortens the absentee-voting period by 11 days. In 2016, he said, 88,000 Iowans voted in the last 11 days. Spiva noted that the change this year would eliminate voting over two weekends in November.

Deputy Iowa Attorney General Thomas Ogden, representing the secretary of state, brushed off the plaintiffs’ concerns. He told Judge Romano that Iowa’s absentee-voting rules are more generous than many other states: Iowa is in the top 10 states in early voting, and the state offers same-day registration.

“It is not a burden to go from 40 days to 29 days,” Ogden said.

Ogden also noted that, since the new law went into effect in December 2017, there have been several special elections and a primary, without a single case of a voter’s ballot being rejected.

Iowa’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed the legislation at issue, House File 516, on a party-line vote last year, and then-Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed it into law.

Among several significant changes in Iowa’s voting law, the bill requires voters to show identification at the polls, eliminates straight-party voting and places new restrictions on absentee ballots.

But the types of IDs that that the law requires Iowans to present at the polls are highly limited. Acceptable forms of ID include an Iowa driver’s license, a nonoperator’s card, a U.S. passport, or a U.S. military or veterans’ identification card.

But voters cannot present student ID unless the ID includes the voter’s photograph and a valid expiration date.

Iowa State University student Taylor Blair brought the court challenge to the law this past May, noting that his school ID does not include an expiration date.

Joined by the organization LULAC, whose name is short for the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, the plaintiffs say the new voting restrictions are especially burdensome for minority, disabled and elderly voters, violating several provisions of the Iowa Constitution.

“The barriers to voting erected by HF 516 disproportionately burden certain voters, including Latinos, African Americans, and other racial, ethnic, and language minorities, elderly people, young people, women, and individuals with disabilities,” the complaint states. “These groups of voters disproportionately vote for Democratic candidates in Iowa. Moreover, election returns show that Democratic voters disproportionately vote absentee. In other words, HF 516 creates the greatest burden on voters who are less likely to vote for its proponents.”

At the time the suit was followed, Secretary Pate insisted that Iowa’s law passes muster.

“I am confident the law protects those rights and the integrity of elections in Iowa,” Pate said, adding that he was “disappointed at this effort to politicize Iowa’s voting process, apparently timed to disrupt the June 5 primary elections. This is a baseless and politically motivated lawsuit, paid for by the Democratic Party’s top super PAC.”

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