Thursday, March 23, 2017

More Restrictions in Senate Amendments To ID Bill

UPDATE: Amendment below passed, full bill passed Senate. Now goes back to House to reconcile the two versions of bill.

Iowans would lose 11 days of early voting under proposed Senate amendments to House File 516, the voter ID bill passed by the House two weeks ago.

The comprehensive amendment 3229 offered by Republican Senator Roby Smith would push the first day of early voting to 29 days before the election, rather than the present 40. The shorter early voting window had been included in an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ken Rizer, but he withdrew the amendment before House debate.

In Johnson County, we saw 2728 in-person early voters during the seven business days that would be eliminated under the Smith amendment.

Smith's amendment includes seven other main provisions that I'll look at while I'm home for lunch here (my exact work schedule seems to be of great interest).

The Bad:
  • First time voters who had registered by mail would have to show additional proof of address before casting their first ballot.
Addresses of new voters are already confirmed by mail. This would also be an administrative headache, as we would have to track an additional piece of data for each voter.
  • The Secretary of State's office would be able to review county records to assure compliance.
During House debate, Rizer offered the unsubstantiated charge that one county refuses to prosecute voter fraud cases. When asked, Rizer refused to name a county. This provision looks like an excuse for witch hunts, and is one more example of Republican hypocrisy on the concept of "local control," and takes authority away from the elected county attorney and auditor.

Gee, I wonder where they'll look first.
  • Increases number of absentee board observers/challengers by parties from 1 per party to 5.
Not necessarily bad in itself, but it seems like an indicator of a ramped-up Republican ballot challenge effort like we saw in Johnson County in 2004. The goal may be to gather "evidence" of "fraud" to come back and pass an even stricter bill in the future.

Your Mileage May Vary:
  • Would require auditors to rotate Democrats and Republicans in first position on the ballot by precinct.
I've never been convinced that first position on the ballot matters, though people and studies say it does.  This is a little more work but not a lot more work than the rotations we already have to do.

At present, ballot order in partisan election is one of the very, very few things that are left to the auditor's discretion. (Translation: the auditor's party almost always goes first.)

What's interesting is that this amendment references a code section that specifies the two largest parties.  Even though the Libertarians gained full party status in 2016 based on Gary Johnson's vote totals, under this code section they're still less than fully equal. Just the Democrats and Republicans rotate at the top.  
  • Birth date required on voter eligibility slips
I suppose this is another way to catch "fraud," but some voters don't like to emphasize their age. Personally, I like to joke with obviously old women: "We have to make sure you're 18, you could have fooled me." Please don't tell my wife. 
  • Some general election filing deadlines moved five to eight days later
In addition to shortening the in-person voting period, the amendments have the domestic ballots mailed out 29 days out. The filing deadlines also move later, presumably because auditors would now have "more time" (HA!) to prep ballots. That doesn't fly, because under federal law the overseas ballots have to be ready 45 days out anyway.

The good:
  • Young people just under 18 would be able to vote in the June primary, if they turn 18 by the general election date. This would make primaries consistent with the caucuses.
Good, but it could set up a confusing scenario.  Let's take a voter who turns 18 just before the general election.
Caucus in February: gets to "vote."
Special election in March: can't vote.
Primary in June: gets to vote.
Special election in September: can't vote.
General election: gets to vote.
This small expansion is a good thing, and will be much valued by the extremely small number of young voters who will use it. Though it hardly makes up for the rest of the bill.

UPDATE: One more item that struck me as too trivial to mention. Party affiliation would no longer be allowed to appear on ballot materials except for the primary. A few labels and forms include party, simply because it's required for the primary. That struck me as a minor technical provision, as I've only had a handful of grumbles about it in 20 years. But to Smith, it was a Big Deal and Unacceptable. So I mention it now.

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