New Look Voter Cards First Stage Of Voter ID Law

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Iowa voter cards will have a new look this week as the details of the state’s new voter ID law kick in, and a big mailing next week could mean thousands of voters having their registrations inactivated long before a single voter is even required to show ID.

Under the provisions of House File 516, an Iowa driver’s license is the default voter ID. (This also includes Iowa DOT non-driver ID cards. For the sake of brevity, from here on out every time I say “license” I also mean “or non-driver ID.”) There are some other limited options, but these options do NOT included licenses from other states or student IDs.

Voters who do not have an Iowa license are supposed to be sent a special ID card to use instead. This provision of the law was added, likely with some reluctance, to help HF516 withstand legal challenge. Rulings on laws in other states have held that, if a voted ID is required, a free alternative must be allowed.

Over the weekend of November 18, the Secretary of State processed a cross-reference between the Iowa license database and the driver’s license database. They also changed some reports in the voter system so that new voter cards will conform to the details of the new law.

Many voters who actually have Iowa licenses did not have them on their voter records. Some simply left them off the registration form, because more people remember their Social Security numbers than their licenses. One or the other is required (I’m skipping some detail here). But most of the newly included license numbers were for people who registered before 2003, when the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) kicked in and we started asking for license numbers.

During debate over HF516, the Secretary of State’s office frequently cited 85,000 as the number of active status Iowa voters without an Iowa license number. Under terms of HF516, the Secretary of State will do the initial mailing to these voters. After that, voter ID cards will be sent out as part of the routine work of processing registrations by county auditors (translation: I get to do it.)

There will be two different kinds of voter cards. The terminology is a little confusing, and which one you get depends on whether or not you have an Iowa license. They are fold-over cards and look identical from the outside.

This is the “Voter ID” card that people without Iowa licenses will get. The initial mailing to the estimated 85,000 people currently registered without an Iowa license is scheduled for December 4 – a very off-time for the election cycle, so many of these very very important cards will be ignored, misplaced, or discarded before they’re needed next year.

It’s also worth noting that these cards look very, very different than the Iowa licenses that most people will be shoring. That singles out these voters and makes them more obvious to people who want to challenge voters at the polls.

See also the PIN listed just below the signature space. If you don’t have an Iowa license and want a mailed absentee ballot next year, you will have to include this obscure piece of data on your request form. And, in a nasty bureaucratic twist: Even though your friendly local election staffer can look at your voter record and see this number, they cannot use it to complete your form. They will have to contact you by phone or by snail mail, during an early voting window that has shortened from 40 days to 29, to get you to give them a number that not only they can see, but that they can find more easily than you can.

Voters who do have an Iowa license will still get a card in the mail. But this will be called a “confirmation card” or a “verification card” to distinguish it from the “ID card.”

Note the prominent “This notice will not be accepted as identification at the polls.” (It may not be in color depending on your county and its printer.)

One not as big but still significant change with these cards: The correction and change space that was on the old voter cards is now gone. That was an easy and fast way for voters to make changes by mail. Just write in the stuff that changed and sign it. Now they’ll have to complete a full voter registration form. There’s also a bar code missing from the confirmation card that used to speed up my work a lot.

Both of the new cards were programmed into the state voter registration system over the weekend of November 18, so there are a few already in circulation. After the initial mailing by the Secretary of State next week, both these cards will be mailed out by auditors regularly, each time a voter registers or makes a change. Which one you get depends on whether or not you have an Iowa license.

Any time there is a large voter card mailing, many cards are undeliverable. When mailings are returned as undeliverable by the post office, auditors are required to place voters on “Inactive” status, a preliminary step to cancellation. Voters who are inactive through two general elections get cancelled.

Because of the voter ID law, there’s an extra mailing going out to a particular, non-random group of voters, and because they’re being sent an extra mailing, they’re more likely to have a card returned to sender.

And the population getting these cards – or not getting these cards – is the most mobile and least rooted group of voters.

Many conservatives (and even some “liberals”) have never gotten over Symm vs. United States, the 1978 Supreme Court ruling that held that yes, college students DO get to vote in their college town. Most people have begrudgingly accepted that students should get to vote for president (the only ballot most students actually cast) but resent young people weighing in on local things like tax questions or how old you have to be to get into the bar.

The unspoken implication of HF516’s refusal to accept valid out of state licenses and student IDs at the polls is: Kid, you’re supposed to be voting an Illinois absentee ballot. But 20 years on the job tells me that the most likely way a student gets to cast a counted vote is to do it at school.

After the Secretary of State’s match-up between the voter file and the license database, there were 7030 Johnson County active status voters without Iowa license numbers, who should be getting cards in next week’s mailing. That’s 7.7% of the county’s total active registration.

Because the last “big” election was the presidential, most voters have not updated their address since the fall of 2016. In my town, most young people move every year on August 1, so the voter ID cards will be getting mailed to LAST year’s address – which means more cards returned to sender and more voters inactivated.

So let’s guess at just how accurate these addresses are.

425 people without Iowa ID numbers have voted since the presidential election. Another 165 have registered since the presidential election and not voted yet. Odds are these are good addresses.

4324 last voted in the presidential election, and these voters are likely still registered at their fall 2016 addresses.

1306 last voted before the presidential election, and 810 registered before the presidential election and have never voted. Many of these people have moved away, and actually should be inactivated and ultimately canceled.

Any of these people needing to re-register will need to do a paper registration form – because Iowa’s online voter registration system is only good for people who have Iowa license numbers.

Here’s some more stats on the 7030 voters without license numbers.

  • 5977 of them are going to addresses in the city limits of Iowa City. Iowa City is 51% of Johnson County’s registration, but is getting but gets 85% of this mailing.
  • 3437 cards are going to the core student precincts – Iowa City 3, 5, 11, 19, and 20. That’s  49% of the mailing going to just 11.5% of the registration. 1334 cards are going to dorms, almost all to fall semester 2016 addresses.
  • 55% of the people getting mailed ID cards live in apartments or dorms vs. 23% of all active Status Johnson County voters.
  • 1621 cards are going to voters under age 21; almost all of that is students because townie kids living with parents are likely to have Iowa licenses. 
  • 260 cards will go to voters over age 80, another group at risk under the ID law.  Some of them have surrendered or lost their licenses and not bothered with non-driver IDs. Other have never has an Iowa state license or ID, and have moved here late in life to live closer to children and caretakers. (People who are in nursing homes and care centers are exempt from the ID law, but not every facility qualifies.)
  • And if you want to get partisan: The mailing of 7030 cards is 5% more No Party than overall registration, 4% less Republican, and 1% less Democratic.

Mail can be iffy, especially at the holiday season. Anyone who believes they should have gotten an ID card (remember, only the people without Iowa licenses will get these) and hasn’t gotten one by Christmas should check in with their auditor.

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