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Judge Blocks Parts of Voter ID Law

Joyce Russell/IPR
Secretary of State Paul Pate

Portions of Iowa’s controversial voter ID law will not be enforced for now, after a ruling today by a Polk County District Court judge.  

The law signed by former Governor Terry Branstad in 2017 requires voters to show identification at the polls starting in 2019.

Judge Karen Romano’s ruling temporarily blocks other parts of the law governing absentee ballots which were already in effect for the June primary election.

The state has suggested no real threat to the integrity of Iowa's voting system without the new regulations contained in HF 516. -Judge Karen Romano

Those parts of the law include a shorter time frame to cast ballots, a new mandate to include a voter verification number on a ballot request, and new signature matching requirements. 

In her ruling, Judge Romano stated the new law presents unnecessary obstacles to voting in violation of Iowa’s constitution.

“The court finds retracting eleven days, including two weekends, from the window of time to submit absentee ballots is a substantial burden on the fundamental right to vote,” Romano wrote.   “However, the State has not even attempted to explain how reducing the time frame for voters to cast absentee ballots will ensure fairness or preserve the integrity of Iowa’s elections.”

As a result, for now Iowans will continue to have 40 instead of 29 days ahead of an election to vote absentee.   Also, a voter verification number won’t be required on an absentee ballot request, and county auditors will not be authorized to throw out ballots if it appears signatures don’t match.

In May, the League of United Latin American Citizens and ISU student Taylor Blair filed suit to prevent Secretary of State Paul Pate from enforcing the new law.     

We will be appealing this decision to the Iowa Supreme Court immediately. -Secy of State Paul Pate

In its suit, LULAC also claimed that the Secretary of State was implying in its promotional materials that identification at the polls was already being required this year.   Plaintiffs argued that was discouraging voting.   Judge Romano agreed and ordered the Secretary of State to remove that from their education campaign.

The case could end up before the Iowa Supreme Court.   Plaintiffs hope a final ruling doesn’t come before November 6.

“I hope the temporary injunction will stay in place,” said LULAC President Joe Henry.

But in a July 6th hearing on the lawsuit, attorneys for the state argued the case should be settled before the fall election.

“We think it's in the public interest to have certainty well in advance of the general election,” said Solicitor General Jeff Thompson.

Secretary of State Pate issued a statement in response to the ruling expressing his disappointment.

"We will be appealing this decision to the Iowa Supreme Court immediately," the statement read.   "Out-of-state dark money and Washington, D.C. lawyers have come into Iowa to try to overturn our election laws."