Civil Rights Group Blasts Iowa’s Voter ID Law

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – A Latino civil rights organization and an Iowa State University student filed a lawsuit calling the state’s new voter ID law unconstitutional and particularly burdensome for minority, disabled and elderly voters.

The legislation at issue, House File 516, was passed on a party-line vote by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad last year.

It made a number of significant changes to the Hawkeye State’s voting laws, including a requirement that voters show a photo ID or an approved substitute ID at the polls, as well as new restrictions on absentee ballots and the elimination of straight-party voting.

According to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Polk County District Court, HF 516 “severely burdens and abridges Iowans’ fundamental right to vote.”

“It will prevent significant numbers of Iowans from exercising that right and make it more difficult for Iowans who successfully cast a ballot to do so,” the complaint continues.

Iowa State University student Taylor Blair and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa claim that the law introduces unnecessary and burdensome voter ID requirements and imposes arbitrary and unjustified restrictions on popular voting practices, including in-person absentee voting.

They argue that the new voting restrictions violate several provisions of the Iowa Constitution, including equal protection and due process protections.

“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.”

The lawsuit against Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is supported by voting rights group Priorities USA Foundation. The plaintiffs are represented by lead attorney Gary Dickey of Dickey & Campbell in Des Moines.

Guy Cecil, chairman of the Priorities USA Foundation, said in a statement: “Under Secretary Pate’s leadership, Iowa is engaged in an active effort to restrict the right to vote for countless individuals who wish only to participate in the democratic process. HF 516 includes a series of targeted attempts at complicating voting, and it’s clear that the law violates long-cherished protections enshrined in the Iowa Constitution. The Priorities USA Foundation is proud to support this lawsuit and will monitor future developments in the state.”

Secretary Pate said in a statement that laws and court decisions from other states were consulted to ensure that HF 516 safeguarded voters’ rights.

“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.”

One of the biggest changes for Iowans will begin next year when voters will be required to present a limited number of identification documents at the polls, including an Iowa driver’s license, a nonoperator’s card, a U.S. passport or a U.S. military or veterans’ identification card.

The legislation allows the use of an out-of-state driver’s license or nonoperator’s ID, or an employer or student ID, provided they include the voter’s photograph and a valid expiration date.

The student-ID option is a problem in the case of plaintiff Blair because Iowa State University’s ID cards do not include an expiration date, according to the complaint.

Registered voters without a driver’s license will be issued a voter ID card with a four-digit PIN number, which does not require a proof of address. A voter-registration card issued to all registered voters, however, will require a proof of address.

“A lower percentage of eligible voters who are racial, ethnic, or language minorities, low-income, young, old, or move frequently possess an Iowa driver’s license, Iowa nonoperator’s identification, U.S. passport, or military or veterans identification that is valid identification,” the lawsuit states.

Blair and the League of United Latin American Citizens seek an injunction against implementation of the challenged provisions of the law.

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