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.