Editor’s note: The Ledger will also run a story on Democratic candidate Deidre DeJear.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is running for re-election this year.
Pate, a Republican, is about to finish his first second term as secretary of state, though not consecutively. Pate was secretary of state from 1995-1999, and won election a second time in 2015.
Pate stopped in Fairfield Wednesday to discuss the upcoming elections. As secretary of state, Pate is the state commissioner of elections and supervises Iowa’s 99 county auditors in how they implement election law.
Duties of office
The secretary of state’s office also handles important state documents. It keeps a registry of the approximately 57,000 active notaries public, and processed 20,000 notary filings in 2011.
Pate said the main topic he touches on at every stop is ensuring Iowa’s election integrity.
“We have stepped up to make sure we are protecting everyone’s vote,” he said. “We vote by paper ballot, and that’s significant. We don’t use the internet, or have any other fancy technological system. It’s a good old-fashioned paper ballot. That should assure people that nobody from Moscow or any other place can manipulate our votes.”
In addition to paper ballots, another safeguard against fraud are the dedicated poll workers and poll watchers. And they are too different things. A poll worker is someone employed by the state to run polling sites. A poll watcher is often a representative from a political party who oversees the poll workers. If a poll watcher thinks a voter is not who they claim to be, the watcher can challenge their ballot with an election official.
The state has rolled out what Pate calls “soft voter ID” this year. Voters will be required to present a form of identification, such as a driver’s license or a passport, in order to vote. Those who do not have a driver’s license can obtain a voter ID card.
People who have neither a driver’s license nor voter ID card on Election Day will be asked to sign an oath saying they are eligible to vote in that election.
In the past, voters only had to produce a photo ID if they were registering at the polls or they were on the inactive voter list.
Next year, the law will change again. Voters who don’t present ID at the time they wish to vote will cast a “provisional” ballot. It’s a ballot just like any other. The only difference is that voters who use a provisional ballot must return to the auditor’s office to prove their identity within a certain number of days. If they do, their vote will be counted.
In July, a judge halted enforcement of some provisions of Iowa’s voter ID law. The portions affected referred to the length of time absentee voting would be available, and a rule requiring absentee ballots to include a voter’s PIN number. Polk County District Judge Karen Romano ruled that Iowa could not reduce its absentee voting period from 40 days to 29 days as planned, and that it could not require voters to include their PIN number when voting absentee.
Pate said he is a strong proponent of this law, and he does not believe it disenfranchises anyone. Instead, he believes it gives Iowans a greater sense of security regarding their elections.
Pate said the old way of checking someone’s identity required looking up data in several books. That began to change years ago as counties adopted electronic poll books.
Four years ago, half the state’s counties were using e-poll books. Two years ago, the number had risen to over 70 counties, and now the number stands at 92 counties. Pate said that the remaining seven counties that lack e-poll books are mostly rural counties that are uncomfortable with the technology. He hopes to change that by offering them resources so they can join the rest of the state in running e-poll books.
When asked about the extent of voter fraud in the state, Pate answered that it’s difficult to measure.
“There was no central database of everybody, and since we didn’t ask for an ID, how do I know who you say you are?” he said. “I know of instances of fraud because county auditors found it out. In my own county of Linn, a gentleman there voted three times by taking someone else’s identity.”