Register Key ConceptIowa Secretary of State Paul Pate told Caffeinated Thoughts he is excited about the potential of online voter registration.  This week his office entered an agreement with the Iowa Department of Transportation to launch a online voter registration program.  There was also a bill filed in the Iowa House addressing the issue.

Tuesday the Iowa Voter Registration Commission voted to approve rules that would establish an online voting registration process that would be maintained by the Iowa Department of Transportation, and hosted on the DOT and Iowa Secretary of State’s website.  This move clears the way for DOT to develop the system, it is expected to be available for new voters by the first quarter of 2016.

State Representative Beth Wessell-Kroeschell (D-Ames) filed HF 28 which would set up electronic voter registration from the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.  The bill requires that the electronic voter registration form provides all of the information given on a printed voter registration form.  The bill also requires a registrant seeking to use the electronic voter registration form have an Iowa driver’s license, Iowa nonoperator’s identification card, a social security number, or a unique identifying number assigned to the registrant for voter registration purposes.

With Tuesday’s decision, online voter registration will be available to eligible voters with a valid Iowa driver’s license or a state issued ID.  That group represents 93% of the state’s eligible voters. The Iowa Secretary of State office’s goal is to continue to work on ways to expand this opportunity in the future so that on-line registration will eventually be available to all eligible voters, including those without driver’s licenses.

“Frankly, I think it is another opportunity for us to not just boost participation, but we can also look at the integrity side by using the DOT’s format we’ll have signature verifications,” Pate said.

“We’ll actually have the person’s signature in our system, and when they go to vote each time when they are voting,” Pate added.  “Now we’ll have an opportunity to compare with more security measures, if you will, that we have the right person voting and we hope this is kind of a stepping stone so we can do that with everything in respect to securing the integrity of the voting.”

Pate thought that the technology the online voter registration process implements could be utilized with all voter registration.

“It clearly has the safeguards and if we can demonstrate that this works I think it is one more step towards taking the wind from those who claim we shouldn’t do this for everybody.  And in fact everyone who registers has to sign their name and provide some type of identity.  And if we can now take that technology and apply it to local county auditors they can use that same checks and measures when they come in to vote, they’ll sign their name again and if they don’t match they are probably going to challenge the ballot,” Pate stated.

With the announcement out of the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Wessel-Kroeschell’s bill appears moot and her intent is unclear in light the Iowa Voting Registration Commission’s decision.  Caffeinated Thoughts contacted Wessel-Kroeschell for a statement, but she has not acknowledged the inquiry.

Pate also discussed SF 10 a bill filed by State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) that would change the primary process in Iowa.  Currently Iowa law states that if a candidate does not reach a 35% threshold on primary election night then the nominee is by a special nominating convention.

Pate said his office was asked to provide a fiscal note for that bill, and the costs of a runoff election shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“It think that it has some financial impact that I think we better take a hard look at.  I don’t think anyone wants to be sending a lot of unfunded mandates to the county level.  It is a pretty serious bill on the statewide basis if we ever get into a run-off for a governor’s race or something like that it could be pretty expensive,” Pate said. “The jury is still out on it.  We’ve got to get the numbers in front of us and we’ll share that with the legislators and let them decide how they want to go from there with it.  It clearly has got a lot of impact from the last round of congressional primaries on the Republican side so it is fresh in our minds so there is probably some interest in discussing it.”

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