DES MOINES (AP) — The growing popularity of absentee voting in Iowa has prompted Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz to look into requiring signature verification for those who vote by mail.
Schultz on Monday said the idea springs from the general election earlier this month in which 46 percent of Iowa's voters cast their ballots early or absentee, a record for the state.
Schultz plans to ask state lawmakers to consider legislation based on Oregon and Washington procedures. Those states have vote-by-mail systems and use a machine to read a signature on an absentee ballot envelope and verify it against the voter's signature on registration records.
Schultz, a Republican, has unsuccessfully pushed to get a law passed in Iowa requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls. He said he'll try to get that introduced again this year, but with Democrats maintaining control of the Senate, it's likely to stall again as it did the last two legislative sessions.
Even if voter ID passed, it doesn't work for absentee ballots because the ballots are sent to a voter's home, filled out and mailed back, Shultz said. He plans to introduce separately the signature verification proposal to help manage absentee ballots.
"When we have half of our voters doing it, we need to look at ways to make sure the votes are secure," Schultz said.
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, a Democrat, said county auditors are working on a verification plan they'll present to the Legislature before the session begins in January.
"We all see the need to verify the signatures on absentee ballots," Miller said. "That's where we need to tighten things up."
Schultz had made voter ID a key issue in his 2010 campaign for secretary of state and he has had support from Republicans in the Legislature. The House, which held a 60-vote majority in 2011, passed his voter ID bill, but it was blocked in the Senate where Democrats held a slim majority.
Democratic leaders say there is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem in Iowa or that it has ever influenced the outcome of an election.
Republicans in many states have aggressively sought photo identification requirements in the name of stamping out voter fraud. Democrats, with support from a number of studies, say fraud at the polls is largely nonexistent and that Republicans are simply trying to disenfranchise minorities, poor people and college students — all groups that tend to back Democrats.
A federal court in August rejected a Texas law that would have required voters to present photo IDs to election officials before being allowed to cast ballots in the general election earlier this month.
A three-judge panel in Washington unanimously ruled that the law imposes "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty.
South Carolina also was prevented from enforcing its voter ID law this year.
Alabama's new law is scheduled to go into effect in 2014.
A judge in Wisconsin declared that state's law unconstitutional and appeals are under way. In Pennsylvania, a judge blocked enforcement and said that for this year's general election poll workers could ask for an ID but could not require it to allow people to vote.
A few states began enforcing new voter ID laws this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They are Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee.
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