DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa will require voters to show identification at the polls under a bill announced Thursday by the state's top election official, and Republicans in the new GOP-controlled Legislature have indicated a willingness to pass it.
The legislation mirrors voter ID bills introduced in Republican-controlled statehouses around the United States in recent years and comes just weeks after President-elect Donald Trump questioned — with no evidence — the integrity of voting in the presidential election.
"We just want to ensure that voters are who they say they are," Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said in releasing details.
Pate's office said a draft of the bill was not available yet, but included a plan to require Iowa residents to show an Iowa driver's license, passport or other approved form of ID to vote. The office would distribute free state-issued IDs to existing registered voters, according to Pate, though his office is seeking $1 million to help make that happen.
The bill would also prohibit college students from using school-issued IDs to vote. The counties that house Iowa's three public universities were some of the handful of counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election.
Pate, a Republican, had defended Iowa's current voting system in October following a tweet from Trump that said the 2016 elections would be rigged and criticizing GOP officials who denied his claims.
At the time, Pate called Iowa "one of the best states in the nation for both voter participation and voter integrity." More than 70 percent of registered voters participated in November.
Pate acknowledged his October comments and reiterated the system is clean, but said it needed to be kept that way.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Republican leaders will have a hold on state government when the Legislature convenes Monday and have indicated support for a voter ID requirement, despite little evidence of fraudulent voting in Iowa or anywhere else in the country.
"Whether there's one person that's voting illegally or thousands that are voting illegally, we want to make sure we have a process that effectively ensures Iowans that the people who are voting have the legal responsibility to do so," Senate Majority Leader-elect Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said at a legislative forum Wednesday.
Democrats won't have power to stop the bill, but wasted no time criticizing it. Sen. Jeff Danielson, who has helped oversee a committee that typically reviews voting changes, said the changes would disenfranchise voters.
"The proposals today from Secretary Pate turn back the clock by making election policy a partisan issue," the Cedar Falls Democrat said in a statement.
It's not the first time Iowa has looked into voter fraud. About two dozen people, including ex-felons and non-U.S. citizens, were charged with registering and/or voting illegally after a two-year investigation was completed in 2014 by Pate's predecessor, former Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Some cases were later dropped.
Democrats and civil rights groups called the roughly $240,000 investigation a waste of money and an attempt to intimidate people confused about their voting rights. Schultz, also a Republican, defended the program as ensuring election integrity.