Voting Rights Advocates Score a Temporary Victory in Iowa

by | July 26, 2018

By Rod Boshart

An Iowa judge Wednesday issued a temporary injunction barring the state from implementing some provisions of Iowa's new voter ID law.

The ruling, for now, restores the absentee early voting period from 29 days to 40 days and blocks certain ID requirements of the law, passed by the GOP-led Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Terry Branstad in May 2017.

Polk County District Judge Karen Romano ruled that elements of the state's new system requiring state-issued voter identification numbers on absentee ballots could harm the rights of voters to participate in elections, "in contravention" of Iowa's Constitution.

The lawsuit seeking to block portions of the law before the November election was filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa.

The group argued in the lawsuit that provisions of House File 516 impedes Iowa's voters by imposing unconstitutional restrictions on potential voters.

Romano blocked the parts of the law that would shorten the window for absentee voting and the requirement of an ID number of absentee-ballot applications.

The order also bars county auditors from rejecting an absentee ballot if they think a voter's signature doesn't match the signature on record, an state administrative rule adopted in December.

"The state has suggested no real threat to the integrity of Iowa's voting system without the new regulations contained in HF 516," Romano wrote. "So aside from the costs of directing the county officials and volunteers to return to the procedures in place before HF 516 was in effect, the harm to the registered voters who may become disenfranchised or experience substantial obstacles in voting is greater than any harm to the state."

The judge also ordered the secretary of state to stop an advertising campaign that tells Iowa voters they need to provide IDs to vote this year.

"This is just a first step, but we welcome it because it means every Iowan will continue to have his or her right to vote," said Joe Enriquez Henry, president of LULAC Council 307 in Des Moines.

LULAC is prepared to argue its case against the proposed changes if the state chooses to go to trial, he said, but he expects the injunction will be in place through the general election in November.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said he intends to fight the ruling.

"We will be appealing this decision to the Iowa Supreme Court immediately," Pate said in a statement. "Out-of-state dark money and Washington, D.C. lawyers have come into Iowa to try to overturn our election laws. The people of Iowa overwhelmingly support voter ID and their elected representatives enacted a law that makes it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.

"My office has worked diligently with organizations across the state, including the plaintiffs in this case, to inform all Iowans about the provisions of this new law," Pate added. "The plaintiffs have not shown a single Iowan has been disenfranchised by this bill."

Pate's Democratic opponent in the fall election, Deidre DeJear, issued a statement calling Wednesday's court decision a "step forward in the fight to defend" the fundamental right to vote.

"The passage of HF 516 was a step backward for Iowa," DeJear added. "The law infringed on the rights of students, the elderly, people with disabilities, minorities and those living below the poverty line. ... This is a good day for all Iowa voters."

In signing the law, Branstad said House File 516 would increase the integrity of Iowa's election system by reforming voter identification rules that would make the system more efficient and convenient for Iowans.

Attorneys for the state defended the changes, but the judge said in her 13-page stay order there was no indication fraud had occurred in elections before the new rules.

"The public interest is not furthered by the rule but, in fact, is harmed," wrote Romano, who indicated it was likely the challengers would prevail in the judicial review.

"The threat of irreparable injury of voters being disenfranchised by the application of the (proposed rules) is real and in a democratic society cannot be allowed."

(c)2018 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)