Voting

(Des Moines) -- Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has signed a bill that would alter the way elections are conducted in the state.

Branstad Friday signed House File 516 into law, which makes sweeping changes to identification requirements for voting, shortens the time for absentee voting and provide guidelines for accessibility at polling places. In an April interview with KMA News, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said the bill is less about preventing voter fraud and more about managing the large amount of information stored on each voter.

"We're talking about over 2 million registered voters; it's a big database we're managing," said Pate. "We're going to make sure it's accurate, and we'd like to make sure that the people who come in to vote can do so in such a fashion that it's fairly speedy for them and not very complicated."

Montgomery County Auditor Stephanie Burke is among the area officials who administers elections and has been digesting the proposed changes. She tells KMA News she is concerned with the portion of the bill that shortens absentee voting from 40 days to 29 days and shortens mail-in voting essentially to a 19-day window.

"We have been seeing an increase in absentee voting here in Montgomery County and all through the state of Iowa," said Burke. "It could lead to some longer lines here (at the auditor's office) and possibly at the polls."

The law will also require voters to present a valid photo ID when voting in-person. The bill sets aside nearly $700,000 in a revolving loan to help counties with technology upgrades and providing free ID cards to those who do not have a driver's license. Burke says eventually that money will run out, leaving the burden on county budgets.

"This is going to be an unfunded mandate for the counties down the road," said Burke. "I don't know the official number of Montgomery County residents who do not have a photo ID, but our county office will have to produce those, mail those out and keep up with the paperwork. It will be an unfunded mandate for us, as well as other counties across Iowa."

The revolving fund also provides money to counties to help with technology upgrades for administering elections.  Burke says her county is up-to-date on election technology.

"Montgomery County has the technology in place to implement some of the changes in the bill, however, there are some large counties that do have it yet," said Burke. "That will be a huge financial investment because election equipment has an enormous price tag. Thankfully, in Montgomery County, we have the technology in place and we are ready to roll with some of the changes."

The bill passed the Iowa House 56-40 on April 10th and the Senate 28-21 on April 13th. Pate says the law should ease any concern about election integrity in the state.

"You also have public perception, which is a bigger issue these days," said Pate. "All we heard about was Russian hacking or other things happening, but the reality is Iowa has a very good track record. We've got very good county auditors. We have over 9,000 poll workers and watchers; they are your neighbors who are out there working at polling sites. But, there's always room for human error, and that's what we're trying to combat with these modernization things."

Regardless of whatever legislation is passed regarding the election process, Burke says workers in her office and auditor's offices around the state will work to administer fair elections.

"I think all the auditors across the state will administrate these changes that are passed," said Burke. "We will work through the administrative issues, facilitate it and make elections work with the highest level of integrity. I do hope there will be a strong collaboration between the Iowa Secretary of State and the auditors across Iowa. I know that many auditors have had different and strong opinions, but I hope we all work together; large counties and small counties to establish these administrative rules and roll out the changes."

Changes to the election process in Iowa are expected to be rolled out gradually. A full timeline will be established at a later date.