Voter photo ID requirement may prove costly

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A bill supporting an act that would require people to show a government-issued photo identification when voting at polls passed in the Iowa House with a 60-40 vote last Thursday.

Rep. Chuck Soderberg, of Le Mars, voted for the bill.

The bill hasn't come up in the state's Senate yet, and it may not come up in the Senate at all, said Sen. Randy Feenstra, of Hull.

"I believe I would vote for it," he said. "However, I do want to see the financial costs behind it."

He believes requiring a photo ID to vote could be beneficial for Iowa.

"What the bill's trying to do is to prevent any voter fraud, and I think this is the best way and probably the simplest and easiest way of doing that," he said.

There haven't been very many cases of voter fraud in Iowa, Feenstra said, but he supports taking preventative action so it doesn't become a problem in the future.

"We never want it to be an issue," he said.

He acknowledges concerns that the act would make voting less accessible to some people.

"That's my concern here, too. Will it create a situation where people no longer go to the polls if they don't have an ID?" Feenstra said.

He would like to look further into the issue to see how many people don't have a photo ID that would fit the bill's requirements if it passes.

"For the most part, people have driver's licenses or some form of ID," Feenstra said. "However, your older population maybe does not have an ID."

Educating people on how easy it is to get an ID and what constitutes an ID will be an important part of guaranteeing the act doesn't hinder people from voting, Feenstra said.

Educating the public requires spending dollars, however.

"If it costs too much, I'm not interested in (passing the bill)," Feenstra said. "I do think there's got to be some basic education with the public on the new way of doing it -- that you need an ID and also how easy it would be to get an ID. But if that cost is exorbitant, I mean over $1 million, then we've got to look into something else."

Stacey Feldman, Plymouth County Auditor, will be attending an Iowa State Association of County Auditors (ISACA) meeting in Des Moines Friday to discuss the bill.

Feldman said as a group, the auditors will determine at the meeting whether they support the legislation, are against it or are undecided on their position.

She's not sure which way the association will side on the bill, but she doesn't foresee the bill being approved by the Senate.

Feldman thinks some form of the bill -- but not necessarily the current bill -- may eventually turn into law.

If the current bill does become law, Feldman said it would involve quite a few adjustments to the election processes in Iowa and in Plymouth County.

"We would administratively have a lot of changes as far as implementation of it with absentee voting and training our precinct election officials on how to implement the new law and require voter ID," Feldman said.

Also, more provisional ballots would need to be available at the polls, she added.

Currently, provisional ballots are available at precincts for people who don't register beforehand and who can't do election day registration (EDR) because they didn't bring a photo ID and proof of residency (or a person to attest) with them to the precinct.

Those people can vote with provisional ballots, Feldman said.

Then two days later, a special three-member precinct board meets to open the provisional ballots and determine whether they will count or not based on the identifications present at the precinct on election day.

The new bill requires provisional ballot voters to come to the auditor's office by the Monday following the election to present proof of identification.

Feldman said rarely does a Plymouth County voter have to fill out a provisional ballot.

"I think we've only had maybe one in the last three years," she said.

Requiring all voters to show a photo ID at the poll would increase the number of provisional ballots filled out because those who forgot their photo ID would have to fill out a provisional ballot.

Like Feenstra, Feldman has heard that people who oppose the bill are concerned about the disenfranchisement of voters.

But lots of other states require some form of identification at voting booths, Feldman said, adding that 28 states in the United States have an ID process of some sort and neighboring state Indiana requires voters to show a photo ID.

"So we're not inventing the wheel here," she said.

As for her own stance, Feldman said she supports the photo-ID philosophy.

No matter if the bill is approved in the Senate or not, Feldman said she will make sure Plymouth County precincts stay in compliance with state law.

"My position is, with anything, I'm required to make all laws work once they're passed, and I would continue to do so with this," Feldman said.

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