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Trial Begins In Challenge Of Iowa's Voter ID Law

Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines.

A trial began Monday focused on the question of whether Iowa’s voter ID law unconstitutionally infringes upon Iowans exercising their right to vote.

The League of United Latin American Citizens and Iowa State University student Taylor Blair are asking a judge to strike down three parts of the law, which was passed by Republicans in the Iowa Legislature in 2017.

The challenged provisions are a requirement to show voter identification at the polls, a requirement to use a voter ID number when applying for an absentee ballot, and allowing county auditors to reject absentee ballots and applications because a voter’s signature doesn’t appear to match other election records.

Attorney Bruce Spiva said these provisions put burdens on the right to vote that outweigh any potential benefits.

“The unjustified hurdles that [the law] placed in front of the ballot box will disproportionately trip those voters who are young, voters who are elderly, poor, lacking in educational attainment, minorities, women, and Democrats,” Spiva said.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Matthew Gannon said the judge should find these laws constitutional and let them stand.

“Because they apply to all voters in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner and are properly tailored to advance legitimate state interests,” Gannon said.

He added those interests include ensuring the integrity of elections and instilling public confidence in the process.

These provisions have not yet been enforced in a general or midterm election. A judge put the new absentee identification number and signature verification laws on hold before the 2018 election.

The voter ID requirement was in a “soft roll-out” phase last year. Now, in 2019, the voter ID requirement is in effect.

But the plaintiffs called witnesses who said they were already affected by the voter ID law.

Taylor Blair, an ISU student and College Democrats member with experience helping people register to vote, said he did not receive a voter ID card in the mail because he was falsely matched with a person who has a driver’s license. He eventually got a card after calling his county auditor.

Blair added the new law makes voting a lot more complicated, especially for college students. And he said he would rather spend his voter outreach time talking with people about issues facing the country.

“Every year I have to spend more time not talking about those important things, but talking about just helping them figure out how to jump through hoops to get to the polls,” Blair said.

April Colehour of Maquoketa said she brought her state-issued voter ID card to vote in the 2018 election, but poll workers asked her for her driver’s license instead because the system indicated she had one. She said she allowed her license to expire because she has a medical condition that prevents her from driving.

Election workers told Colehour she could fill out a ballot, but they weren’t sure if it would count.

“I was frustrated, and I was mad, because when you go to vote, that’s supposed to be your voice,” Colehour said. “And that day, my voice wasn’t heard. I didn’t know if it was going to be heard.”

Colehour said she didn’t know her vote was counted until the lawyers in this case called her earlier this year.

Gannon said Iowa is the only state with a voter ID law to send out identification cards to voters who don’t have a driver’s license.

“No other state in the country went to such lengths when enacting a voter ID statute,” Gannon said.

And he noted these witnesses never lost their opportunity to vote.

The trial in Polk County court could last about two weeks.

A judge in a separate but related case ruled against the state and struck down an administrative rule that bars elections officials from using the voter registration system to obtain missing voter information for an absentee ballot. The secretary of state’s office is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter