With the state of Iowa facing budget woes, we have a suggestion for Secretary of State Paul Pate and others who might support his new voter verification plan: Forget about it.

Pate grabbed headlines last week when he proposed the so-called upgrade to the state’s election system that he said would guard against fraud. “I want to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat,” he said.

Changes would, according to a story by our Des Moines Bureau, take effect by 2020 and involve using electronic poll books statewide and requiring voter or signature verification both at polling places and for absentee ballots. Those lacking approved identification would be issued free ID cards with ID numbers. A registration ID number would be required for all voters requesting absentee ballots. Voters will scan IDs or voter registration cards upon checking in at polling places.

It would cost $500,000 up front to create the voter ID cards and another $35,000 annually after the initial start-up cost. Another $500,000 would establish a revolving fund to provide electronic poll books in all 99 counties, although 72 currently have some form of the books.

And as if the ID system and financing isn’t complicated enough, other parts of the proposal would require that county auditors certify compliance to all laws and report suspected misconduct to Pate’s office, and ensure uniform, ongoing training for election staff and poll workers.

Maybe we’re spoiled in Cerro Gordo County where Auditor Ken Kline has established an efficient, smoothly operating system. He even developed the Precint Atlas system that uses a simple electronic process to help guide precinct staff through the voting process. It has proven so popular that it is in wide use around the state.

So, we wonder, what’s the big need for anything new and perhaps improved, although not everyone agrees that it would be? Pate says it would “instill confidence” in the voting system. Like there’s not now?

The Cedar Rapids Gazette, which partners with our Des Moines Bureau in covering the Statehouse, reported that of the hundreds of potential cases of election misconduct investigated by authorities, only 23 people were convicted in the last five years. Of those, 15 were for felony charges of election misconduct and eight were for misdemeanors.

Those low numbers seem to prove the system is doing its job now, that there’s hardly a need for a major revamp.

Or as Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said, Pate’s proposal appears to be a fix for a system that isn’t broken and ranks among the top in the nation. He wonders if long lines at polling places wouldn’t result, and fears that some costs would result in unfunded mandates for counties.

Predictably, Democrats criticized the proposal by Pate, a Republican. Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said it would suppress voter turnout with voter IDs disenfranchising “older Iowans, younger Iowans and people of color” – and that the plan would “turn back the clock by making election policy a partisan issue.”

That the issue immediately became partisan is predictable. But from a more commonsense standpoint, we do not see any pressing cause to spend $1 million or more to revamp a system that’s already working very well as evidenced by extremely low cases of voter fraud. Or as one North Iowa legislator told us, who would want to risk going to jail just to vote? No one we know.

Thanks to hard-working auditors and loyal poll workers, Iowa’s system seems to be working well as it is.

We say let county auditors continue their good work, and put the $1 million toward education, social services, public safety or any of the myriad things that could use additional money.


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