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Some Students Say Iowa's Voter ID Law Left Them Waiting

voting sign
John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa’s voter identification law is creating confusion for some Des Moines college students who have out-of-state IDs. Registered voters without an Iowa ID are supposed to receive a voting card in the mail automatically, but some Drake University students say they have waited weeks without getting theirs.

Katie O’Keefe is a recent graduate with a Minnesota driver’s license. She updated her voter registration in Iowa more than a month ago, “but I have not received anything in the mail yet so I still don’t have any card or anything to prove I can actually vote here,” O’Keefe said.

Iowa Public Radio spoke with four other students with the same experience. Morgan Garner is from St. Louis and has a Missouri ID. She has waited weeks for her voting card. Garner plans to call the county auditor for a replacement, but worries fellow students won’t think of doing the same.

“It’s an inconvenience, especially for college students who, in the first place, might not even know they’re missing something if they’re from out-of-state,” Garner said.

Students from out-of-state can choose to register to vote in Iowa based on their college address while remaining a permanent resident of their home state.

According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the students’ cards were printed. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald said there are no problems with the mailing system. Fitzgerald said voting IDs should arrive within a week after registering. If it takes longer, people should call their county auditor's office to check their mailing information and request a new card.

“We only know there’s a problem when people call,” Fitzgerald said. “We mail about 200 cards a day. If it didn’t come back undeliverable we assume it went to the voter.”

November 5th is the first time Iowa’s voter ID law will be in effect for a statewide election. It requires voters to show an Iowa driver’s license or non-operator ID, a voter ID card, U.S. passport, military ID or tribal ID before voting.

There are still some options for people to vote if they arrive at their polling place without an approved ID. They can still fill out a ballot if they bring out-of-state identification and documents such as utility bills that prove where they live. They can go to the polling place with another person who lives in the precinct to vouch that they are a valid voter. Registered voters can also avoid ID confusion by voting early by absentee ballot.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino civil rights group, has been working to register 25,000 new voters before the Iowa caucuses. After hearing that some Drake students had not received their ID cards, LULAC Iowa political director Joe Enriquez Henry said the group will follow up with people they have registered to make sure everyone who needs a voter ID receives one.

“There will be a lot of young people and they will rely on those voter ID cards,” Henry said. “The problem is without a voter ID card, if you are a student, you’ll be questioned there at the polls on election day. That would cause their ballot to be put in provisional status, which we don’t want to see happen.”

LULAC was the plaintiff against the state in a lawsuit aimed at blocking the voter ID law. A Polk County district judge upheld the ID requirement this month but ruled that county auditors cannot reject absentee ballots based on signature comparisons and must try to fill in missing information on ballot applications.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa