Wahls: Strong leadership needed to protect Iowa's elections

BY ZACH WAHLS | MARCH 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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Few issues are as immediately divisive in our politics as “Voter ID,” a perennial Republican proposal to mandate that citizens show photo identification to confirm their identities before voting. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz has been a big proponent of voter ID since he was first elected to that office in the tea-party wave of 2010, a passion shared by many of his Republican colleagues across the country.

While he has announced that he won’t seek re-election and is instead pursuing the Republican nomination for the House seat in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, his successor is going to have a lot of work to do. And that’s why I’m proud to support Brad Anderson for secretary of State.

Iowa has a long history of fair and free elections, and Brad is going to work to keep them that way, amid the increasingly shrill hysteria about voter fraud and voter ID. Brad has been around elections for a long time — he was Iowa’s state director for Obama for America in 2012 — and worked for Gov. Chet Culver when Iowa established same-day voting registration. Brad is a capable executive and a small-business owner, and he has a clear, five-point plan to expand and protect voting rights in Iowa — which is good, because like I said, he’s going to have a lot of work to do.

Under Schultz’s direction, the Office of Secretary of State partnered with Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation to mount a two-year probe into the issue of voter fraud. The investigation cost $224,000 and yielded six — as in one, two, three, four, five, six — counts of voter fraud.  In the first trial, a jury last week acquitted the accused.

Six counts of voter fraud is certainly six too many. But let’s look at the facts. More than 1.5 million Iowans voted in the 2012 elections. Those six fraudulent votes amount to about 0.0004 percent of the electorate. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight — one of the nation’s foremost data journalists — wrote an in-depth post analyzing studies about voter fraud that showed that most studies agree that voter-ID laws lower turnout by about 2 percent. In Iowa, that would have meant 30,000 fewer votes.

There’s a big difference. 

And frankly, I don’t doubt the secretary’s motives or those of his compatriots here in Iowa. (Elsewhere, though, proponents of voter ID have openly spoke about shifting the electoral results as a result of these laws.) I understand that to him, voting is a sacred right, and as someone who I’m sure firmly believes in individual autonomy, these kinds of restrictions are no restrictions at all.

And it’s important to note that on their face, these laws are seen as popular. In the election of 2012 (nearly a year and a half ago now) the issue went to the ballot box in our neighbor to the north as Minnesota contemplated a constitutional amendment that would have required voters to present photo IDs at the polls. At the start of the campaign in June 2012, Public Policy Polling found that Minnesota was poised to easily pass the amendment, with 58 percent of Minnesotans in favor of the amendment and only 34 percent opposed.

But after the campaign took place and Minnesotans listened to both sides of the argument, they decided to vote the amendment down with 52 percent opposed to 46 percent in favor, a swing of nearly 20 percentage points.

Here in Iowa, a full 71 percent of us say that it’s more important that every eligible registered voter is able to vote — even those who don’t have photo IDs. Only 25 percent of Iowans say that it’s more important that no ineligible person “slip through the cracks” and into the voting booth.

I know that Brad is going to keep the focus on making sure that eligible and registered voters stay that way — and I know that he’s committed to making sure that those who aren’t registered but are eligible to vote aren’t intimidated by the process of participating in our democracy.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting his candidacy and in renewing Iowa’s commitment to free and fair elections.

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