Iowa Student Leaders Express Concern Over Proposals that Make Voting More Difficult
As student government presidents from universities across Iowa, we are concerned about recent proposals that, if passed, will create additional barriers to voting for college students and other vulnerable populations throughout the state. We are specifically worried about what the legislature is doing to Secretary of State Paul Pate’s Election Integrity proposal, House Resolution 150, which aims to eliminate same day voter registration, and Senate File 47, which would require photo identification for voting. We stand firmly against these efforts to make voting more difficult.
After we released a letter last month with our concerns over Secretary Pate’s proposal, the Secretary invited student leaders from across the state to meet with him in Des Moines. We would like to thank Secretary Pate for engaging with us on this issue. While some of our concerns were addressed, we remain highly skeptical of the effects it will have on student voter turnout, especially if the provisions proposed in the legislature are adopted.
During our meeting, we raised the point that voter fraud is extremely rare in Iowa. After all, the state ranks second in the nation on the Electoral Integrity Index, a collaborative academic project between Harvard University and the University of Sydney. In response, Secretary Pate reiterated his talking point asking, “How many fraudulent votes are too many?” We knew the answer he was looking for was “One fraudulent vote cast is too many,” because he has been quoted multiple times saying this, including in the “Myth vs. Fact” document released by his office.
However, we disagree. We believe the more important questions is “How many people not voting—because they do not understand the process—is too many?” We would argue that this problem, which would be exacerbated by his proposal, is even more harmful to democracy than the issue he raised, especially given the preponderance of evidence demonstrating that Iowa elections are some of the most secure elections in the country.
Only 17 percent of 18 to 24 year olds cast a ballot in the 2014 elections, according to the Campus Vote Project. Unlike voter fraud, this is a well-documented issue. As student leaders, we urge our elected officials to make voting more accessible, rather than making it even more difficult. We encourage them to preserve policies that allow same day voter registration and early voting, and we also urge them to recognize student IDs as a legitimate form of identification.
Finally, restrictive voting policies like the ones we have described contribute to a growing national fear that our electoral systems cannot be trusted, which reduces the legitimacy of our entire democracy. As state leaders, Iowa lawmakers and the Secretary of State should reassure voters that our systems can be trusted, based on their credible track records. Instead, they are perpetuating voter fraud myths that have no evidence—in Iowa or across the nation.
To continue to move toward a more inclusive democracy, we ask others to join us in contacting legislators about these proposed changes. We must work together to protect the right for all college students to easily engage in the electoral process.
Rachel Zuckerman, University of Iowa
Hunter Flesch, University of Northern Iowa
Cole Staudt, Iowa State University
Joshua Schoenfeld, University of Iowa Graduate and Professional Student Government