“What’s your address?”
“You can’t ask me that,” I said. “That’s a test, or at the least, it’s a challenge.”
The election official was taken aback and became defensive. We engaged in a small discussion. I could see that I rattled her cage and she was going to show me who was boss. She had my identification; what more did she need? Holding my driver’s license, she asked me to verify my name. I hesitated, but in the end, I acquiesced. I voted and left.
Later, I sent an email to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald and told him I felt uncomfortable about the process of giving everyone a little test to see if they knew their name and address. He got right back to me by phone, immediately.
The Auditor told me that I was correct. The mishap occurred within the manual that was supplied by the Iowa Secretary of State, Paul Pate. He also assured me that it would be corrected by the next election, the Iowa Primary in June, 2020.
I brought this up at a neighborhood holiday social this month and received a defensive remark by a person who worked the polls on the special mayoral election. He justified his position by using the example of college students who move frequently and don’t have a current address on their driver’s license. So, I asked him: “Did you question everyone’s knowledge of where they lived?” “No,” he said. “So, what made you ask some but not all?” I don’t think I received an answer.
Immediately, I was jokingly criticized for harassing volunteers. First of all, these poll workers are not volunteers; they are paid for their work at the polls. Second, poll workers represent the government, and the only way to get the attention of an elected official (the Secretary of State) on a constitutional matter is to begin at the bottom.
I asked my neighbor if he was instructed to test some people because the manual suggested it. “Yes,” he replied. I knew because Auditor Fitzgerald told me so the night of the election when he called me. Evidently, the manual is provided by the Secretary of State, and the County Auditor did not have time to correct the misstep in the manual before all poll workers were trained.
Iowa Code section 49.78 begins with a statement that says: “To ensure the integrity of, and to instill public confidence in, all elections in this state the general assembly finds that the verification of a voter’s identity is necessary before a voter is permitted to receive and cast a ballot.” The subsequent subsection spells out how that verification process is to occur.
2. a. Before a precinct election official furnishes a ballot to a voter under section 49.77, the voter shall establish the voter’s identity by presenting the official with one of the following forms of identification for verification:
(1) An Iowa driver’s license issued pursuant to section 321.189.
(2) An Iowa nonoperator’s identification card issued pursuant to section 321.190.
(3) A United States passport.
(4) A United States military or veterans identification card.
(5) A current, valid tribal identification card or other tribal enrollment document issued by a federally recognized Indian tribe or nation, which includes a photograph, signature, and valid expiration date.
b. Upon being presented with a form of identification under this section, the precinct election official shall examine the identification. The precinct election official shall use the information on the identification card, including the signature, to determine whether the person offering to vote appears to be the person depicted on the identification card. The voter’s signature shall generally be presumed to be valid. If the identification provided does not appear to be the person offering to vote under section 49.77, the precinct election official shall challenge the person offering to vote in the same manner provided for other challenges by sections 49.79 and 49.80.
According to the law (above), the only method of identifying oneself is “by presenting the official with one of the following forms of identification for verification,” and the precinct election official may question the voter only “if the identification provided does not appear to be the person offering to vote.” The rules established by the Secretary of State go one step further.
21.3(6) Determination of identity and residency. Proof of identity and residence of persons offering to vote is presumed valid unless the precinct election official determines the proof offered does not match the voter. In determining whether a person offering to vote is eligible under Iowa Code section 48A.7A and Iowa Code chapter49, precinct election officials shall consider all of the information presented by the person offering to vote prior to determining that the person is not eligible. The following are factors that shall be considered by precinct election officials in making the determination:
a. Changes to the voter’s physical appearance or signature,
b. Time elapsed since the proof was generated, subject to the Iowa Code sections that govern the validity and expiration time lines of the proof,
c. Other documentation allowable under Iowa Code chapter 48A to prove the facts in question.
Back to the beginning. Why was I asked to verbally verify my address? Did some physical appearance of me standing before her not match the photo or information provided on my driver’s license? Maybe I gained 10 pounds. Is it the haircut? It can’t be the signature since I have yet to sign anything.
If it’s none of the above, it must be a challenge. What else could it be? And why would I be challenged? A challenged voter must fill out a provisional ballot.
The County Auditor told me that some people purposefully submit a provisional ballot when they vote. It does nothing more than to make more work for the auditor and staff. I didn’t want to do that. However, the process I experienced was identical to what occurs if you are challenged as a voter.
My experience was degrading and unnecessary. It was designed to intimidate, humiliate, and discourage those who may be voting for the first time, or like me, for the umpteenth time. My vote “is presumed valid”. The burden is not on me, but on the government.
Voting is a fundamental right. It requires the strictest scrutiny by a court of equity. Questioning the validity of some, but not all, becomes a constitutional issue. It’s profiling. It’s uncalled for and it is not the law.
I may have been criticized by my neighbors, but we can’t let one constitutional right become watered-down because there might be a good reason behind it. The best reason behind questioning some government practices is the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Iowa. “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.” I’m doing my best to make sure a bad instruction in a manual becomes the focus of conversation in order to correct the possible constitutional violation.
Chicago’s late Mayor Daley and his “Democratic Machine” are no longer something that can happen today. Voter fraud is rare, and is usually mistaken for voter misunderstanding. You can’t just go out to the cemetery to register voters. They must have a Social Security Number. They must have a legitimate address. All the information available to auditors and the Secretary of State, the state’s election commissioner, are basically fool-proof.