By Zach Weigel
Amid tense times in regard to international politics (Syria missile strike, the “MOAB” dropped on ISIS, Turkey’s constitutional overhaul, and anxieties over possible escalation in North Korea), politics in Iowa are also hitting a time of supreme importance. The fate of a multitude of bills still hangs in the balance as the state Legislature is scheduled to wrap up this week.
Along Republican Party lines, House File 516, aimed at preventing alleged voter fraud, cleared its final hurdle
after both the Iowa House and Senate passed it. Now, it is to be sent to Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk, and he will most likely sign the measure into law; however, it will not take effect until 2019. Among other less important reforms, the bill will pre-eminently require all voters to present a government-issued form of ID in order to cast a ballot.
Supporters of the bill, such as Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, contend that the measure will modernize the voting process and curtail voter fraud. A recent Des Moines Register poll found 69 percent of Iowans favor requiring an ID to vote.
So no big deal, right? It seems logical to prove that you are in fact who you say you are when you vote, and a large majority of Iowans express support for the bill. That’s not the whole story, though.
Democrats adamantly oppose the bill, believing requiring voters to use a form of government-issued ID works to disenfranchise minority voters, a demographic that typically votes for the Democratic Party.
And Democrats may well have good reason to decry this bill as data from the American Civil Liberties Union reveal minorities make up a disproportionate share of voters who don’t have valid forms of government-issued ID. This suggests implementing stricter voter-ID laws will in fact discriminate against minorities. What is more, a stricter voter-ID policy similar to Iowa’s was recently struck down by the courts in Texas. Particularly, the decision stated Republicans in Texas intentionally crafted the stricter voter-ID law in an effort to gain an electoral advantage over Democrats.
Evidently, there are two sides to this story. On one hand, the bill appears logical and has the popular support of Iowans. On the other hand, Democrats profess the real motive behind the bill is not to improve vote integrity but to privilege Republicans by making it harder for minorities to vote. Thus, if you are logically in favor of stricter voting laws, you may in fact be playing into the hands of Republican lawmakers.
However, if we accept the argument that this bill will discriminate against minorities, how much of an effect will this new voter-ID law have?
I do acknowledge that stricter voter ID laws will make it harder for some minority members like the elderly and disabled to vote, as they may not have a drivers’ license, the most common form of government-issued ID used to vote. But there are still other ways for voters to obtain valid IDs if they desire to vote, such as getting an official voter-verification card from the state.
So will stricter voter-ID laws make it harder for some people to vote? Yes. But will it have a large enough effect to really affect the electoral chances of Democrats? I’m inclined to believe it won’t make too much of difference.