IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Nearly 1 percent of voters in Iowa’s largest counties did not show identification during the June 5 primary under a new state law, prompting critics to warn that the requirement could disenfranchise some voters in elections beginning next year.
At least 1,198 voters signed oaths affirming their identities because they did not have, or refused to show a driver’s license or other ID accepted under the law, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by the 10 counties with the highest turnout. They accounted for 0.83 percent of 144,000 ballots cast for which the data was collected.
The primary was the first statewide election in which pre-registered voters were asked to show a state-issued ID, passport, military or veteran ID or free voter card before casting ballots, under the law approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year. Previously, those voters only had to give their names and addresses to poll workers.
As part of a gradual rollout of the new law, voters without IDs in 2018 are being allowed to sign an “Oath of Identification” attesting that they are who they say they are. The oath option will remain available in the November election, which features competitive races for governor and at least two Republican-held U.S. House seats.
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But in 2019 when there will be local races, the option of signing an oath will go away.
Elections officials said that some of the oath signers had IDs but were protesting the new requirement to show them. Even accounting for that possibility, the numbers gathered by AP “are a good way to gauge the disenfranchisement that would occur without an affidavit option,” said ACLU attorney Rita Bettis, a critic of the new law.
“These findings help demonstrate that the best and easiest path to (protect voting rights) is to keep an affidavit in place as a safeguard for those qualified voters who don’t have a needed ID,” she said.
Poll worker Linda Robbins, 66, said several voters signed oaths at her precinct in Epworth in Dubuque County because they lacked IDs. She recalled one of them was a young woman who stopped to cast her ballot while out jogging, and others were people who simply said they left IDs at home.
Robbins said she worried some of those voters will be disenfranchised by the requirement in the future. “It’s another way of limiting who gets to vote,” Robbins said.
In 2019, voters without IDs will be allowed to have other registered voters, such as a spouse or neighbor accompanying the person, attest to their identity. Otherwise, they will be required to cast provisional ballots that would be counted only if they take steps to establish proof of their identities by the next Monday at noon.
Kevin Hall, spokesman for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican who has championed the law, said the number of oath signers in the primary isn’t an indicator that the law will disenfranchise voters in the future. He said the oath is helping to educate voters about the new identifications requirement during 2018 so that by the time of the 2020 presidential elections they will be familiar.
Hall said the June primary went smoothly, writing in an email: “The real story from the 2018 Primary Election, is that there is no story.”
Statewide data on the number of oath signers wasn’t available because counties weren’t required to track that information.
The AP requested the data from the 10 counties that had the most primary voters, which collectively accounted for more than half of the votes cast statewide. Nine counties provided the data while Linn County only had numbers covering about half of its electorate.
The highest percentage of voters who signed oaths was in Johnson County and Story County, home to the state’s two largest universities, and fast-growing Dallas County outside of Des Moines. Voters didn’t have to give a reason for signing oaths, making it impossible to know how many did so in protest.
Bettis said she expected thousands without IDs to need that option to cast ballots in November, and she expressed hope that a lawsuit challenging the identification requirements as unconstitutional will lead to a ruling keeping the oath option in place in 2019 and beyond.
In a filing Wednesday, lawyers for voting rights advocates who are challenging the law argued it will impose “significant” new burdens to participation that will fall disproportionately on voters who are young, low-income and minority. State lawyers have asked for the suit to be dismissed.
Pate has argued that the identification requirements will improve the integrity of elections, and even with them, Iowa will remain one of the easiest states to vote. “Participation and integrity are not mutually exclusive, and I have taken steps to ensure we have both,” he said.
Deidre DeJear, a Democrat who is running against Pate, said the new law creates “tedious, unnecessary barriers” that she said she is working to combat by educating voters.