Judge Shoots Down Challenge to Iowa Voter ID Rule

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – An Iowa judge ruled the state’s requirement that voters show valid photo identification at the polls does not violate the constitutional right to vote, but he struck down several other provisions of a 2017 voting law.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

A Latino civil rights organization and an Iowa State University student filed a lawsuit in May 2018 calling Iowa’s voter ID law unconstitutional and particularly burdensome for minority, disabled and elderly voters.

Polk County District Judge Joseph Seidlin disagreed for the most part in a ruling released Tuesday, saying that while the requirement to show valid identification at the polls may be a burden for some, there will be no constitutional implications for the “vast majority” of voters.

While voting is a fundamental right in Iowa, the judge wrote that the evidence presented at trial “simply did not demonstrate that the burden on young voters, old voters, female voters, minority voters, poor voters and voters who are Democrats to show an approved form of identification at the polls is appreciably greater than the rest of the population.”

Besides a state-issued driver’s license or identification card, valid identification at Iowa polls may include a passport or military ID. In addition, voters who do not have those are eligible under the original statute to receive a state-issued voter identification card at no cost.

Seidlin said he had to consider the impact of the new voter ID law on all Iowa voters in order for the law to be held facially unconstitutional.

“For the vast majority of eligible voters in Iowa, the voter identification requirement poses no real burden,” he wrote. “They either present a driver’s license or nonoperator’s identification card which they already have, or a voter ID card which they either have or can easily obtain for free.”

The judge added, “This is the plainly legitimate sweep of this legislation. The small category of voters who do not possess a valid driver’s license or nonoperator’s identification and also cannot obtain a voter ID card do not have a facial substantive due process challenge.”

However, Seidlin struck down as unconstitutional a provision of the voter-identification law enacted in 2017 that would have prevented Iowans who may have lost or misplaced their driver’s license from receiving a state-issued voter identification card.

“All eligible, registered voters should be able to ask for and receive a voter ID card from their county auditor so that every voter can cast a ballot as easily as every other voter,” he wrote.

The judge also struck down a provision that allowed county election officials to challenge an absentee ballot if the voter’s signature on the absentee-ballot application did not match the signature on the ballot. Any procedure for verifying signatures would be too varied to meet constitutional scrutiny, Seidlin said.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican who was named in the original complaint, praised the judge’s ruling Tuesday.

“This ruling is a victory for election integrity,” Pate said in a statement. “My goal has always been to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat. Iowans have overwhelmingly voiced their support for voter ID, and this law ensures voters will be asked to provide identification before casting their ballot.

One of the challengers, the League of United Latin American Citizens, was represented in the case by Gary Dickey of Dickey Campbell in Des Moines and Bruce Spiva of Perkins Coie in Washington, D.C.

Joe Enriquez Henry, LULAC’s national vice president for the Midwest region, saw good and bad in the decision.

“This was a good decision for most of it,” Henry said in an interview Tuesday. “We liked the signature part, and [eliminating] the voter ID number on absentee ballot requests. That’s important, because 50% vote by mail ballot” in Iowa, he said.

“We don’t like that the voter ID is restricted to a driver’s license and [state-issued] ID. We see that as a form of voter suppression. We will have a battle to fight,” he added.

Henry said he was not sure if the decision will be appealed.

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