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Iowa Secretary of State's Voter Integrity Act Focuses on Tech Upgrades

Paul Pate has stressed repeatedly that the legislation is focused on technology upgrades that will secure integrity without limiting the franchise.

(TNS) — WATERLOO — Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate stepped right into the middle of a heated debate over voting rights at a time when it is burning brightest.

Former President Barack Obama called voter fraud a “fake news” story in his final press conference, while the term “hacking” gets thrown around with abandon after the 2016 election. The debate is happening as some states have ramped up efforts to limit the franchise after parts of the Voting Rights Act were struck down in 2013, and yet others have worked to expand participation.

But Pate, a Republican, is hoping — probably in vain, if the early indications are correct — some of the “political nonsense” will die down once people get a good look at his Voter Integrity Act proposal.

“Once everybody has a chance to take a deep breath and kind of try to take some of the political stuff out of the debate, it is, I think, going to be a great place to start out and work this from,” Pate said in an editorial board meeting with The Courier.

Pate stressed repeatedly the legislation, which has yet to be introduced, will not be like the so-called voter ID bills in other states and is focused on technology upgrades that will secure integrity without limiting the franchise.

“It’s about reassuring people that we’re giving them the best product,” Pate said. “I can’t speak for every individual what they think is the number before we should have this major response based on fraud alone. I think perception is a bigger problem actually than the hard fraud numbers.”

While prosecutions of voter fraud are rare in the state and across the nation, Pate said there is a potential for problems he hopes to address through the legislation. He pointed to instances where auditors are ultimately unable to track down someone after the election who had registered and voted on the same day as one area of concern.

An overview he provided to lawmakers last week notes the legislation has three priorities: voter verification; shoring up voter confidence related to absentee voting and voter registration; and improved transparency in election administration.

The bill would require an ID. But Pate said his office has already identified the about 85,000 people in the state who are registered to vote but lack the necessary identification card. For those voters, his office plans to automatically send a voter ID, if the bill is enacted.

Anyone else who has yet to register, Pate said, the process does not change.

“Every step of the way, we put the burden on us as the administrators. We really do,” Pate said. “The only responsibility the voter has is bring your card, and make sure you put your ID number down on your absentee ballot.”

Pate’s proposal is fairly consistent with what he’s been suggesting since he was elected again to the position of secretary of state. He has expressed concern about the growing number of people who use absentee ballots and working to make them more secure.

But Pate said he has no intention in his legislation to change the absentee ballot process, other than shortening up the period for requesting them to 120 days, or plans to change the registration process, including for same-day registration.

“There are other things I’d like to see us do to keep moving participation, but if I don’t have some of this other technology brought in, I’m not comfortable doing that,” Pate said.

He acknowledged some cost burdens the counties may face in upgrading their equipment — though the legislation would create a revolving loan fund to help — but he said many are already investing in electronic pollbooks.

The legislation has met with much criticism from auditors and election officials across the state and from college students, among others, but Pate said much of their critique is based on “myths.” He expects the full proposal to be unveiled in the next couple weeks.

“That’s my goal at least is to keep the Legislature from turning this into a Christmas tree bill of all the things they want to talk about in elections,” Pate said. “I want to keep this focused.”

©2017 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.