Ken Rizer

The Iowa House has been the site of a partisan battle over proposed changes in Iowa election laws. Republicans like Representative Ken Rizer of Cedar Rapids support the idea of requiring that voters confirm their identity with an ID before casting a ballot on Election Day.

“Voter ID is a common sense reform that makes it easier to vote, harder to cheat and nobody is turned away,” Rizer said to open debate.

Rizer said the state will be able to spend $150,000 and provide a voter ID card to the estimated 85,000 eligible voters who currently do not have a drivers license or some form of photo ID. House Democrats are staunchly opposed to the bill, labeling it “voter suppression.” Representative Amy Nielsen, a Democrat from North Liberty, said research shows voter fraud is “rare” in the U.S.

“Certainly no where near the numbers necessary to have an effect on any election,” Nielsen said. “Or, to put it another way, about as many people say they’ve been abducted by space aliens as say they’ve committed voter fraud.”

Representative Ras Smith, a Democrat from Waterloo, pointed to data indicating I-D requirements in other states have depressed voter turn-out among minorities.

“This proposed legislation threatens to revert our state to a time when isolated populations of Iowans’ voices were silenced,” Smith said.

Other Democrats predict the ID requirement would be tied up in court challenges for years. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, suggested it would be better for legislators to spend the money to improve the state and county computer systems that handle voter registration data.

“What we need to do is modernize and update our election technology,” Mascher said. “…If we want to fix the system, we should be putting our efforts into that.”

Rizer, the Republican guiding the bill through House debate, pointed to the 2007 Iowa law Democrats passed that lets Iowans show a photo ID and vote on Election Day if they have not registered to vote beforehand.

“So we’ve had a photo ID bill here for 10 years and we haven’t gotten a single complaint that it’s been discriminatory, ot a single complaint that it suppresses a single vote,” Rizer said, “nor have there been any court challenges.”

Democrats say Election Day registration — and the photo ID requirement — has expanded voting opportunities for “a small group” and the ID requirement is not “for everyone,” while the new rule Republicans propose would be. If the bill becomes law, Iowa’s secretary of state would be required to audit the votes cast in a few random precincts. Rizer said that and other parts of the bill will address the “perception of fraud.”

“The idea is if people have confidence, then they think: ‘You know, my vote matters,'” Rizer said, “‘and I’m going to go vote.'”

The bill also would address the absentee ballots used for so-called “early” voting. If the bill becomes law, Iowans would be required to put the number from their driver’s license or voter regisration card on the form requesting an absentee ballot, then sign the envelope used to send ballot in. Those signatures could then be checked to confirm the voter’s identity.