February 2011

On Tuesday, Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz announced the public release of the “Scott County Checkbook On-Line.”  This new service will allow county residents to view how their tax dollars are spent by individual departments and government agencies for which Scott County provides accounting services.*  

Auditor Moritz Shows Search Function for Checkbook On-line During a February 22, 2011 News Conference

The public will have access to the accounts payable reports prepared for the Board of Supervisors which shows spending by county department and separate government agency. The reports are displayed in a searchable PDF format.  They include an alphabetic listing of vendors as well as the departmental report.  Also included are Board reports for county spending by purchase cards, a form of credit card issued to government agencies.

The web page includes a “Contact Us” feature, to allow the public to contact the Auditor’s Office with questions or suggestions.  The goal is to answer questions within 48 hours, although more difficult question may take longer.  If Auditor staff cannot answer the question it will be forwarded to the proper department.

Auditor staff began the discussion on how to implement this improvement in late 2009.  After experimenting with some different options last year, the Auditor settled on the product released on Tuesday.

Scott County will be the first major county in Iowa to provide its “checkbook” on-line for the general public to see.  We are joining a growing number of counties and cities in the nation in providing better transparency for local government.

Providing this information to the public will help the Auditor’s Office to meet county goals of regional leadership, use of technology to increase productivity and enhance services and deliver service in the most cost-effective and efficient manner.

* Scott County provides accounts payable services for Scott County Assessor, Scott County Library, Scott Emergency Communications Center, Davenport City Assessor and some payments for the Iowa Department of Human Services based in Scott County.

On Friday, February 11, 2011 the Iowa State Association of County Auditors (ISACA) voted to oppose House File 95, the Voter Photo ID bill.  The vote came on a motion for ISACA to take a lobbying position on the House passed measure.  No county supported the current version of the bill, 44 counties opposed the bill and 16 counties voted to remain neutral.  This recommendation went to the ISACA executive committee which decided unanimously to register as opposed to the bill.

An earlier straw poll showed all county auditors opposed to the bill.  The difference within the membership focused on whether taking a formal position in opposition was the proper strategy, or if a less formal opposition be more strategic.

Opposition to the bill came from both Democratic and Republican auditors.  Auditors were concerned that the photo ID requirement would drive up the cost of elections, increase provisional voting and prove to be a significant disincentive for voters.  Some auditors saw an increased burden on already overworked precinct election officials, and that many would quit due to these officials bearing the brunt of voter backlash to the requirement.  They also saw significant problems for some voters, such as college students, in obtaining required state issued photo IDs.  

Much of the discussion focused on the experience with photo IDs in the state of Indiana.  An average precinct in Indiana will have six poll workers to make the photo ID requirement work.  However, the average Indiana precinct will have two-thirds the number of voters of an Iowa precinct.  A typical Iowa precinct will have five workers.  To meet the staffing level of an Indiana precinct, an Iowa precinct would need nine poll workers, or an 80 percent increase.  Auditors were incredulous they could meet that staffing level given the difficulty in recruiting workers under the current system.

An ISACA exploratory committee which met with election officials from Indiana estimated that the annual cost of free photo IDs could reach as high as $1,682,000 for state and local government in Iowa based on the Indiana experience.  The committee also found that since 2005 Indiana spent $2.2 million for voter education on the ID requirement, including $600,000 for the 2010 general election.  A similar appropriation would be needed for outreach to Iowa voters.  A final unmeasured expense for Indiana is the cost of annual litigation to defend the state and some counties from claims the photo ID requirement present an undue burden on voting.  So far litigants have not been able to produce an individual instance where the photo ID requirement prevented someone from casting a valid ballot.  Indiana election officials were concerned what the courts would decide if such harm could be proved.

Most auditors believed that the current Iowa safeguards against voter fraud at the polls are sufficient to insure the security of Iowa elections.  If there is a weakness in the system it lies in absentee voting.  Other states which have enacted photo ID requirements have experienced significant voter fraud.  For example the 1997 mayors’ election in Miami, Florida found massive absentee voter fraud committed by the supporters of one of the candidates. The fraud was so extensive that all absentee ballots were thrown out by the judge in the resulting election contest.  Significantly, photo ID requirements could have the effect of driving up absentee voting by voters who do not have photo IDs.  One estimate shows that 11 percent of othewise eligible Iowa voters do not have a government issued photo ID.

On January 27, 2011 the Iowa House of Representatives approved a measure to require voters to present a government issued picture identity card before being allowed to vote in Iowa elections.   The law makers acted despite lacking a fiscal impact statement, or a report from the Iowa State Association of County Auditors which had put together an exploratory committee to examine practices in other states with photo ID requirements.  This committee was literally on its way back from Indiana (a state with photo ID requirements) as the vote took place.

The bill requires the Iowa Department of Transportation to issue free photo identity cards.  The bill also requires county recorders to issue free birth certificates if the reason for the certificate is to obtain an identity card for voting purposes.  No appropriation was attached to the bill to pay for these costs.

The House approved the measure on a straight party-line vote, 60 Republicans in favor to 40 Democrats opposed.  The measure now goes to the Iowa Senate where is faces an uncertain future.

Some proponents of the bill called it a “no brainer,”  their concern being that another person could fraudulently imitate a voter who does not normally vote and cast a ballot for that person.  They argue that a photo identity card will prevent such fraud from occurring.  Proponents admitted that they had no evidence of this practice, but said that such fraud could be occurring but without anyone being able to detect it.  Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who campaigned in support of a picture ID requirement, cited his election as proof that voters want the requirement added to Iowa law. 

Opponents called the measure “a solution in search of a problem” because there is no evidence that voter fraud has taken place.  They complained that the measure was an attempt at suppressing voter rights as an estimated 11 percent of Iowans eligible to vote do not have a government issued picture identity card.  They also complained that no fiscal impact statement was attached to the bill, and therefore the costs to the State and to the counties was unknown.

Secretary of State Matt Schultz and Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz during the Secretary's visit to Scott County

The current voter registration system has many antifraud safeguards built into it to verify voter identity before reaching the polls.  Because of these safeguards and the unknown level of costs, Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz opposes the photo identity card mandate.  She believes the House acted too quickly, leaving too many questions and other concerns unanswered. 

For example, there is no statewide cost estimate.  Scott County election staff estimate that this requirement will add between $8,000 to $9,000 in poll worker costs to each major election.  The ISACA exploratory committee found that Indiana spends more than $2 million each year on free photo identity cards for voters.  There is no formal analysis for what it might cost the State or county recorders.  However, the ISACA exploratory committee estimated lost revenue to the State and county recorders at $1,682,640.

Voters would experience more delays and longer lines at the polls.  Voters who cannot produce a government issued, photo identity card will have to vote a provisional ballot or not vote at all.  Voter who cast provisional ballots will need to prove they have a photo identity card within one week of the election or their votes will be discarded.  During the year 2010 Indiana spent $600,000 in voter education costs to inform voters of the need to obtain and bring picture identity cards to the polls before voting, and has spent $2.2 million on voter education efforts since the inception of the photo identity law.

Finally, Iowa law contains contradictory requirements regarding birth certificates and identity cards.  A citizen without a photo identity card needs to produce a birth certificate to obtain a photo identity card.  Conversely,the law requires a citizen requesting a birth certificate to present a government issued photo identity card to the county recorder before receiving the certificate.  The House passed measure made no provision to change this “Catch 22” which will discourage citizens from obtaining photo identity cards.