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Voter ID Law Argued; November Election At Stake

Joyce Russell/IPR
Iowa Supreme Court where arguments were heard in a voter id lawsuit

Attorneys for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate were at the Iowa Supreme Court today, arguing for reinstatement of parts of Iowa’s new Voter ID law.     

Requiring an ID at the polls doesn’t take effect until next year, but new rules for absentee ballots went into effect this year.

Last month, a district court judge issued a temporary injunction halting those parts of the law.   The Secretary of State wants the injunction lifted so the new absentee ballot rules can be in effect for the November election.

Suppose there was evidence that the purpose was to suppress the vote of a certain type of person? -Justice Brent Appel

The restrictions were in place for some special elections and the June primary this year, including allowing ballots to be thrown out if signatures don’t match.

Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins questioned whether voters were harmed.

“We’ve had all these elections and we haven’t seen any ballots rejected, that’s what they’re saying, due to mismatched signatures,” Wiggins said.

“I think there is no data showing there haven’t been signatures rejected,” countered Bruce Spiva, an attorney representing the League of United Latin American Citizens which brought the initial suit challenging the constitutionality of the voter ID law.     

The new rules also limit the window for early voting from 40 days to 29 days.

We've had all these elections and we haven't seen any ballots rejected. That's what they're saying. -Justice David Wiggins

Justice Brent Appel questioned the purpose of the new restrictions.    

“Suppose there was evidence that the purpose was to suppress the vote of a certain type of person,” Appel said.

“Well that certainly would not be a valid purpose,” answered Assistant Attorney General Thomas Ogden.   

Justice Edward Mansfield argued there are good reasons to limit the time frame for early voting.   For example, in this year’s gubernatorial primary, voters who cast early ballots for one candidate had their votes invalidated when the candidate dropped out.

“Candidates may drop out,” Armstrong said.  “Candidates may die.”

“We can all agree that voting is a right,” Chief Justice Mark Cady added, “but is early voting more of a privilege?”

Muscatine County Auditor Leslie Soule filed a brief in the case, urging the court to lift the injunction and let the new absentee ballot rules go back into effect.

“This …course will alleviate great uncertainty in the administration of elections by Iowa’s county auditors,” the brief read.

It's an important question that needs a quick answer. -Chief Justice Mark Cady

Ogden urged the court to lift the injunction, and have the old rules go back into effect right after special elections scheduled for September 11.

“Just to insure maximum continuity of operations,” Ogden explained.

“It’s an important question that needs a quick answer,” Chief Justice Cady said.