- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A proposed rule allowing Iowa residents to register to vote online would exclude anyone without a driver’s license or photo ID and must be fixed, voting rights advocates said Wednesday.

The Iowa Voter Registration Commission began drafting a new rule in August that would allow prospective voters to register on the internet in addition to the paper registration process.

“This is a great step that benefits 94 percent of the population of Iowa with minimal cost or any strains on the current system,” Charlie Smithson, a commission member, said Wednesday.

The deadline for public comment was set for the day before Election Day in early November, prompting voting rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa to say the change was being pushed through too fast. They asked for a public hearing, which will be Dec. 30.

“Online voter registration is an important step that Iowa should take to expand access to voter registration and keep pace with our increasing use of the Internet, but it’s important for the state to take the time to ensure it is implemented in a fair and accessible way,” said the ACLU of Iowa’s legal director, Rita Bettis.

She said the rule would create a system unfairly excluding about 145,000 Iowa residents eligible to vote but who lack a driver’s license or an ID issued by the Department of Transportation. That is primarily the elderly, people with disabilities, minority voters, and low-income voters.

Groups joining the ACLU in calling for changes including the League of Women Voters of Iowa, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, the NAACP, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

The new rule would allow anyone with a driver’s license or photo ID issued by the Iowa DOT to log onto a website and register to vote. The site would import the information from the DOT documents including the user’s signature into voter registration forms and automatically forward them to the state’s voter database.

“It’s supplemental to the already existing voter registration procedures, so we’re not taking anything away or any kind of disenfranchisement,” Smithson said. Those without an ID would register the current way using a paper application.

The Iowa process would be the same as that used by 17 other states currently offering online voter registration. The National Conference of State Legislatures said 21 states offer online registration and three have passed legislation to create a system but have not yet implemented it.

Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott said the Iowa State Association of County Auditors favors online voter registration but prefers legislative action and will ask lawmakers to take it up in the session starting in January. The Legislature considered a bill early this year but it did not pass.

“We do believe that just issuing a rule may not be enough,” he said. “There are technical aspects from the auditors’ standpoint. We probably will still pursue legislative action to better define what online voter registration is and how it will work.”

Parrott said if the commission’s rule is approved, which is likely, the DOT won’t implement it for months - giving the Legislature time to step in and make changes.

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