Senate passes bill to allow for electronic voter registration

Voter RegistrationBy Bob Eschliman


The Iowa Senate approved a bill Thursday to allow Iowans to register to vote electronically.

Senate File 331, offers an online electronic voter registration option to Iowa voters in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Office of Secretary of State. Floor manager Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) said the bill would meet the Senate’s criteria for providing the “best electoral system in the United States.”

Danielson noted Secretary of State Paul Pate has proposed an online electronic voter registration method that would allow online registration for Iowans with IDOT-issued driver’s licenses or non-driver ID cards. He said that proposal would miss about 4 percent of Iowans who are unable to obtain either, and that SF 331 would allow every eligible Iowan to vote.

According to a fiscal note filed by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau on Monday, the cost of implementing the new system is estimated to include one-time costs of approximately $223,750 over the next two fiscal years. There would be ongoing maintenance costs of approximately $20,000 per fiscal year.

Here is a breakdown:

  • a one-time cost of $110,000 for a contracted vendor to program the IVOTERS adaptations. The ongoing operating costs will be approximately $20,000 annually.
  • a one-time cost of $93,750 for website design and development. This service will be provided from an outside source. If an IT Specialist 5 was hired rather than using an outside source, the total compensation of salary and benefits will be $125,000.

The LFB also determined the implementation of electronic voter registration could become a “significant” unfunded mandate on counties, which are responsible for the voter registration process in Iowa. It did find, however, that over time, there may be some savings to counties.

“Counties will experience additional costs in implementing an online voter registration website,” the bureau’s report stated, “however, no estimates are available at this time, but could be significant. Once the online program is implemented, the counties may experience a savings in time spent processing paper registration forms.”

State Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) had previously introduced an amendment, but was absent. Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) withdrew the amendment. Without further debate, SF 331 was adopted on a 26-20 party line vote.

In addition to Chelgren, state Sens. Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City), Jake Chapman (R-Adel), and Tim Kapucian (R-Keystone) were absent.


Blacklisted Employees

Senate File 332, which amends provisions of Iowa Code concerning Iowa Department of Administrative Services procedures regarding the designation of those deemed ineligible for state employment and the public solicitation of applicants to fill certain state employment vacancies, was adopted on a 35-11 vote. State Sen. Julian Garrett (R-Indianola) argued the bill was unnecessarily vague, and poorly written, so as to allow only a very narrow range of former employees to be banned from future state employment.


Time Off for Adoptions

Senate File 375, which establishes employment protections for workers to be absent from work due to adoptions, was approved on a 37-9 vote. The bill was substantially amended by floor manager state Sen. Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines). State Sen. Dennis Guth (R-Klemme), an adoptive father, thanked McCoy for the bill and the amendment, which he said made it even better. However, he didn’t think it was the government’s job to dictate what companies can do.

State Sen. Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines) said he agreed with McCoy on the importance of adoption. He was concerned, though, about the unintended impact SF 375 could have on small businesses.


CLICK HERE to see video of the afternoon’s debate.


Unanimous Bills

The Senate also adopted the following bills on unanimous, or nearly unanimous, votes:

  • Senate File 366 – an act to amend Iowa Code as it relates to the re-examination and recalculation of disability retirement benefits for beneficiaries under the public safety peace officers’ retirement, accident, and disability system, adopted 46-0.
  • Senate File 395 – an act to amend Iowa Code as it relates to the definition of stalking and applicable penalties, adopted 46-0.
  • Senate File 404 – an act to amend Iowa Code as it relates to the certification and regulation of shorthand reporters, adopted 46-0.
  • Senate File 410 – an act to provide limited criminal and civil immunity to those who might otherwise be charged with a minor drug offense as a result of transporting another person who has overdosed on drugs or alcohol to an emergency room, adopted 44-2.