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Editorial: End voting-law crackdown

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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It goes without saying that one of the cornerstones of a functioning, modern, liberal democracy is universal suffrage. However, it appears that headlines across the state of Iowa are ringing with actions committed by state officials, which undermine that noble principle.

This past week, a Republican official in Cerro Gordo County reported that mistakes made by state election officials led to three voters being barred from voting because they were incorrectly labeled as disenfranchised felons (two of the voters were felons who had had their voting rights restored, while the third was not a felon).

This incident is just an anecdote amid Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s overzealous crackdown on the nonexistent threat of voter fraud, a crusade we have often criticized on this page.

Firstly, it’s important to note that it is fundamentally immoral to deny anyone the right the vote, even if a citizen committed some sort of criminal offense. Free societies don’t strip their citizens of basic democratic freedoms. Authoritarian regimes do that.  

However, now that Schultz’s attack on voting rights has actually led to the documented disenfranchisement of Iowa voters — the claim so often derided as crying-wolf by opponents of voter-ID laws — we believe that the time has come to describe this crusade for what it actually is: a poorly disguised attempt to make political hay without a serious regard for the health of Iowa elections and an attempt to limit the voting power of many traditionally Democratic voting blocs.

Prior to the 2012 presidential election, the Pennsylvania state House Republican leader stated, in public, that voter-ID laws would put a Republican in the White House. That strict voter-ID laws disproportionately affect people who don’t have ready access to usual forms of voter IDs, the poor, young people, and minorities — in other words, the engine that drives the Democratic Party.

It should be no surprise then that red states, or in the case of Iowa, states whose Legislatures are dominated by the Republican Party, have been the most gung ho about pursuing draconian voter-ID laws.

Proponents of voter-ID laws consistently disguise their attempts at chipping away at Democratic power with the specter of “voter fraud.” But, as a comprehensive study by News21, a journalism initiative based at Arizona State University, has noted, voter fraud is an infinitesimal phenomenon, rarely occurring and in no way justifying the heavy-handed response by Schultz and other officials across the nation.

Furthermore, Schultz has announced that he will run for the seat in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District left vacant by retiring Republican Rep. Tom Latham. That Schultz has been very public in his assault on voting rights suggests that he is attempting to make his political bones by pandering to conservative voters convinced of the reality of voter fraud, a problem that is less of a threat to Iowa’s elections than Schultz’s own zealous enforcement.

The charade and parlor games around voter fraud and voter ID by Schultz have gone on far too long and must be put to a stop. We believe that the time has come for the secretary of State and the state Legislature to end their pursuit of more rigorous voter-ID laws in order to protect the suffrage rights of every Iowan.


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