Petitioners challenging Iowa’s voter ID law were in Polk County District court Friday, urging a district judge to temporarily halt enforcement of parts of the law.
Ames resident Taylor Blair and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa are suing Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate over the law.
The requirements in the law to show identification at the polls don’t go into effect until next year. But on Friday, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued for a temporary injunction to stop the parts of the law that are already in effect dealing with absentee ballots.
Under the law, voters must present identification numbers when they request an absentee ballot; the window for absentee balloting is shorter; and election officials can throw out absentee ballots if they judge that signatures don’t match.
Bruce Spiva is a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based firm Perkins Coie which is representing the plaintiffs. He says the Iowa Supreme Court has consistently ruled voting is a fundamental right.
“Even provisions that create a modest restriction on the right to vote the state must articulate real reasons why,” Spiva argued.
Under the law, if an election official questions the signature on an absentee ballot, the ballot can be rejected.
Spiva says if that happens in the last days before an election, the voter would have no opportunity to challenge the decision.
“There’s a huge potential for disenfranchisement,” Spiva said.
Spiva cited statistics showing Democratic voters use absentee ballots more than Republicans.
“So even a random rejection of absentee ballots will skew the election against Democratic voters,” Spiva said.
Assistant Attorney General Tom Ogden defended the new law.
“The changes to Iowa's absentee voting process do not unduly burden the right to vote because no-excuse absentee voting which Iowa provides is not constitutionally required to begin with,” Ogden said. “Nothing that we're talking about here….affects any Iowan's ability to walk into the polls on election day and vote,” Ogden added.
Ogden told the judge that voting rules are policy decisions that are up to the legislature. But the plaintiff’s attorney said that’s not true when the fundamental right to vote is at stake.
Solicitor General Jeff Thompson, also representing the state, wants the entire lawsuit speeded up so it can be settled before the fall election.
“To get a decision this summer so we could have it ready for the Supreme Court when they show up again in September,” Thompson said. “We think it’s in the public interest to have certainty well in advance of the general election.”
District Judge Karen Romano promised to issue a ruling on the injunction “as soon as I can.”