Iowa will launch a statewide online voter registration system on Jan. 1, but advocates for the disabled, minorities and others are worried the plans will ignore the civil rights of thousands of Iowans, making it more difficult for them to vote. The America Civil Liberties Union of Iowa says it is commending Secretary of State Paul Pate for modernizing Iowa’s voter registration system. But the organization says administrative rules aimed at implementing the system will exclude 7 percent of Iowans who lack Iowa driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards. “We believe there is a strong likelihood that the rules as proposed would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act,” which prohibits discrimination against disabled people in governmental activities, said Pete McRoberts, legislative counsel for ACLU-Iowa “To mitigate this danger, we need online voter registration, open to all people, on an ADA-compliant web site.”
McRoberts testified at a hearing Wednesday at the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. He suggested that if people lack a driver’s license or a state identification card, they could simply use a digital signature to register to vote. He noted that Iowa law anticipates the use of digital signatures, and it specifically permits state officials to determine what constitutes an electronic signature. He expressed concerns the proposed rules could particularly hurt older Iowans and disabled veterans.
The Iowa ACLU’s stance was supported by the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Area Conference of Branches, the League of Women Voters of Iowa, and Disability Rights Iowa, an advocacy group for Iowans with disabilities and mental illness. However, the Iowa Secretary of State’s office maintains the online voter registration system and the rules to implement it will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.