Auditors Study Photo ID

When Iowans elected a new Secretary of State in November, county election officials (Auditors) adapted quickly. Secretary-elect Schultz had already riled the auditors during the campaign. He had insinuated that voting rolls were improperly managed, and he had called for new laws to block imaginary illegal voters.

The auditors initiated a study of photo ID requirements for voters when Schultz told them he would press for such a law in Iowa. A handful of other states have a similar requirement. Seven auditors traveled to two of those states, Indiana and Florida. Their 14-page report is now available on the front page of their website.

Reading between the lines of the report one can see the ID laws don’t prevent this imaginary fraud so much as move it to a new place in the voting system. Voters can escape the photo requirement by voting absentee in Indiana, for example. One Indiana official said he encourages voters to use absentee ballots if the ID rule is a stumbling block for them. However, the Iowa report notes

Since mailed absentee ballots are already the area of the election process that is most prone to voter fraud, this “go-around” actually opens the election process to greater potential for voter fraud.

Indeed Indiana and Florida each cite their own history of absentee ballot fraud yet both still permit absentee voters.

It is not clear if either state relies on the photo rule anyway. Indiana absentees avoid the photo law. At the polls it is common to rely more on signature similarity than to study the photo ID, according to one Indiana official. Furthermore, Indiana allows names that don’t exactly match each other, citing ten variations of the name J. Crew, for example, that would all be allowed to vote with the same ID card.

Florida voters can avoid presenting a photo if they have two forms of ID or if their signature on voting day matches a prior signature in the state’s database.

Look-alike brothers Bill Jones and Bob Jones could probably vote for each other in Indiana as easily as in Iowa. People with paperwork skills can probably navigate the system with little hassle. I don’t think the voter ID demand is even intending to stop them, both because it is so rare that one voter impersonates another, and because that is no way to steal an election.

This campaign may be driven by a widely held notion among Republican activists that “DemocRATS” don’t win elections unless they cheat. Rather than rely on evidence for this view, they hold it as a matter of faith. They proceed to claim it’s just a sensible requirement, thus avoiding the need think clearly about the notion.

The auditor’s report does not advocate or condemn voter ID laws. Auditors knew they had to avoid that policy debate. Instead it explains the stories of the other two states and recommends some minimum standards for Iowa in case the legislature agrees to erect this new blockade. They include “a significant financial investment” in voter education for the indefinite future, money for free ID cards, money to defend the law against a likely court challenge, and money for improving the technology that links databases of registered voters and licensed drivers. That’s four new lines of expenditure, estimated to exceed two million dollars a year in the report.

But since the report was written, Secretary Schultz has reduced funding for Iowa’s innovative poll worker technology tool known as Precinct Atlas. Counties who use the optional device must divide up the $30,000 cost formerly paid by the state.

Secretary Schultz says his new ID plan will make elections “secure.” County auditors who used the Precinct Atlas made the same claim for it. Security is in the eye of the beholder.

cross-posted at Bleeding Heartland.

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