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Iowa polling rule changes spark heated debate

BY AUDREY ROEN | OCTOBER 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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Changes in polling rules in Iowa have thrust the state into the heated debate over new voting restrictions and regulations.

Earlier this year, Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded an executive order which gave voting rights to felons. Now, felons must pay off any financial fees before their voting rights are reinstated.

Around the country, changes to voting rules have been discussed among state governments and are becoming increasingly controversial.

Earlier this month, the Brennan Center for Justice released a report summarizing new voting laws being implemented and considered across the United States.

"This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the election of 2012," say the authors of the study, Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden.

While Branstad's executive-order rescission affects relatively few voters, some lawmakers are looking to make broader changes — which one local official is wary of.

"No voting changes have occurred in the state of Iowa, but if the Republicans take charge of both the House and the Senate, I have no doubt that a voter-ID bill will pass," Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett said. "I see no reason to change the way proof of voters' IDs are implemented in Iowa; our laws are very strict in determining people are who they say they are."

John Twillman, the head of the UI College Republicans, said he supports new laws being discussed.

"I think the laws will make the next elections as fair and as true as the American people are ," he said. "If people really represent themselves, it is what democracy should be."

Opponents of voter-ID laws say the move would exclude eligible voters. Young people or the elderly, for instance, might not have appropriate IDs and getting the IDs might be challenging.

ACLU Iowa legal director Randall Wilson believes the voting restrictions will be unfair and present inequalities among voters who have voted in the past.

"You talk a good game, and what you're really trying to do is get good constituents out of the race to vote," Wilson said.

University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle describes the voting changes as highly interpretive.

"On the one hand, such laws may help to give people more confidence in the system — at least from the supporters' point of view," he wrote in an email. "Those on the other side will be concerned about disenfranchisement, inequality, etc."

Lawmakers will likely bring up voter-ID rules in the next legislative session, but it's unclear how much traction those proposals will gain.

"It depends on who wins the 'spin' game," Hagle said. "Republicans and conservatives are generally in favor of such laws, while Democrats and liberals are generally against them. The folks in the middle will go with who every makes the best argument or has the most effective scare tactics."


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