[DAVID YEPSEN] Iowa's secretary of state has long been tasked with oversight of elections. Across 99 counties, the office coordinates and offers guidance during crucial moments of electoral democracy – like our upcoming election on November 6. The office itself is up for election in 2018 with a pair of candidates deeply divided over issues such as voter ID laws. Republican Paul Pate is seeking a third term as Iowa's secretary of state after holding the office once in the 1990s, and again in 2014. Deidre DeJear won the Iowa Democratic Party's nomination for the post in her first campaign for public office. Welcome to you both.
[PAUL PATE] Thank you.
[YEPSEN] Thanks for being with us today.
[DEIDRE DEJEAR] Thanks for having us.
[YEPSEN] And across the table, Erin Murphy is Des Moines bureau chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is news director for Radio Iowa.
[KAY HENDERSON] Mr. Pate, you had a term in this office in the 1990s, you've had one term during this decade. Why do you need another?
[PATE] Well, the jobs not done. Until we are satisfied that we're getting all voters enfranchised and given an opportunity to participate. Until we make sure that Iowa stays on the leading edge, and we have been doing a great job at that – we're in the top six in the nation for voter participation and registration. We've got to keep going. It's like an election - is really no finish line. It's ongoing. There's election every, almost every week or – excuse me, that's an exaggeration – every month or so in Iowa. So we have to do our very best.
[HENDERSON] Ms. DeJear, what would you do differently?
[DEJEAR] You know, I've been the end user of the secretary of state's office my entire career. I'm a small business owner, I help other businesses and nonprofits get started. I also am a tremendous voting advocate, and you know, over the last couple of years I've seen a great need for improvement. Especially as it relates to increasing our voter turnout, and best connecting with voters. We have 2.4 million voters, eligible voters, in our state and only 1. 9 million are active. Um, I'm also a small business owner and we have over 260,000 businesses in our states – small businesses providing jobs for about 50 percent of the workforce. And as I'm working with my businesses and they're coming from the secretary of state's office, they're not sure how to navigate doing business in our state. And I want to ensure that that office is not only helping them get started, but connecting them to the resources that are going to help them grow.
[ERIN MURPHY] We wanted to ask you both about voter ID. It's a, a new law that people have strong feelings about, on both sides. It's currently caught in the legal system. But to kind of back out, for Secretary Pate, why was this necessary in the first place when in person voting fraud is such a rare thing? Why was mandating a, a voter ID necessary?
[PATE] Well, I think people mistake voter ID because they are saying that there's rampant fraud going on. It's actually about protecting what you value. Just as I'm sure each of you, before you came for this taping, you left your home, you locked your door, at your house. You didn't lock it because there was a rash of burglaries in your neighborhood. You locked it because you valued the things inside that home. And voting is one of those things that we value. Almost two thirds of the states in Iowa – excuse me, almost two thirds of the states in this country, have a form of voter ID. Iowa was going forward to have a voter ID. We saw nearly 70% of Iowans saying they wanted it; it crossed party lines. It was done because they wanted to be reassured that we were guarding the vote value. And I wanted to make sure what the bill itself was one that was doing the job and, not disenfranchising, but actually assuring them of the integrity of the system.
[MURPHY] And that's the risk though. Is there, what the people are concerned with the law say is it comes at the cost of possibly disenfranchising voters.
[PATE] Well, I think there are those political critics who want to say that. You look at the hard facts and it hasn't. You look at this year, we had over forty special elections. This was a soft rollout year for it. Forty special elections, a primary that had record highs for participation in absentee balloting, and one of the highest for the Democrats for turnout. And I think that speaks volumes, that the fact that we asked for an id did not inhibit anybody. In fact, let's underscore here, we sent out, and will continue to send out, free IDs to anyone who doesn't have it. What's happened is those who want to criticize it use examples from other states or they draw assumptions that aren't correct and applying them to what we've done in Iowa.
[YEPSEN] Ms. DeJear, what's wrong with the voter ID law?
[DEJEAR] At the end of the day, it's important for us to defend our democracy. And that means we need each and every eligible voter in our state getting an adequate invitation to participate in the process. This past primary election, we saw 13% of eligible voters in our state participating – not eligible voters, registered voters. 13% of registered voters participating in that. You know Iowa's better than 13%. We cannot truly value the vote unless we're truly getting people out to vote. And I think Mr. Pate, when he talks about value in the vote, I think we should think about the priority. We're held accountable to the National Voting Rights Act. We're held accountable to the National Voter Registration Act. That means we need to make sure that people are getting out to vote. Now, with that being said, you know, this bill changed the voter process. And we have not seen adequate education coming out of the secretary of state's office to inform people on how their fundamental right, exercising that fundamental right in that process, has changed. But needless to say, the bill is passed, and the way we get over it is to continuously educate people. And that's the type of secretary of state I want to be. I want to be the one that's a champion for people's voices and a champion for people's votes and showing that we're getting as many eligible voters out there participating in the process.
[YEPSEN] Mr. Pate, critics of this thing also say it's nothing more than Republican voter suppression. That the people who get hurt by these voter ID laws are people in minority groups, older people, and poor people. What do you say to those critics that say this is all part of a Republican effort at voter suppression?
[PATE] Well, I think that's it again, that's, that's political rhetoric.
[YEPSEN] Yes it is, but that's what they say. I'd like you to respond to it.
[PATE] And they're entitled to their opinion, but the facts aren't that. When you look at the polling The Des Moines Register did itself, clearly again, overwhelmingly Republicans, Independents wanted, have voter ID because they thought they needed it. The Democrats were almost 50% saying they needed it. When you look at the hard numbers in Iowa, Iowans vote. They're registered and they vote. This was a record number for Democrats and voting in this last primary. So they are coming out. Can we do more and increase voter participation? Well, certainly. We should never stop that. But we're not seeing anybody deterred at all. Our voting stats are right where they were before voter ID was passed. And that's not the end of the discussion, we want to increase it. But this has not demonstrated that it's impacted them at all.
[YEPSEN] And Miss DeJear – when you go to cash a check, you have to show an ID. What's the big deal? What's wrong with asking people to show a little ID? You do it all the time; buying alcoholic beverages. What's the big deal with having to show voter ID?
[DEJEAR] One may live their entire lives, never cashed a check, never buy an alcoholic beverage. But that shouldn't be compared to their right to cast their ballot.
[YEPSEN] So what's wrong with having to show a voter ID, show some form of ID?
[DEJEAR] Ya know, I don't think that there's something wrong with it, but here's another stat – we know that there's 125,000 registered voters that neither have IDs or have driver's licenses. That's a huge part of our voting block. When we look at just 280,000 folks that participated in this primary and 125,000 without IDs, we have to take those people into consideration. When one person is turned away from the ballot box, then that's an injustice on our democracy and we have to ensure that we're including people in the process rather than carving them out. Not making it complicated; giving them a proper invitation to participate in the process. That means a secretary of state that's letting them know when to vote, how to vote. That's encouraging them to participate in election – not just in the large ones, but in those small municipal elections as well because those are just as valuable.
[HENDERSON] Mr. Pate, you mentioned the soft rollout. I had a discussion with a poll worker who worked that June primary. And this person, did not know that you could sign a document to attest – they thought you needed to show a photo ID. Clear up the confusion for people who are going to go to their precinct on election day. What do they need to show in order to cast a ballot?
[PATE] Certainly. Well, I just would point out that training for these poll workers are done by the local county auditors. We've now stepped up and provided them with training materials and encourage these auditors to use so those poll workers have the accurate information in their counties. Thousands of votes were cast, these past elections with much success. Now the answer your question, when people come in to vote, this election cycle coming in November, they could just bring their driver's license, a passport, a veteran's ID and a tribal ID was just recently added and use that as one of their IDs. Or they can also use one of the state-issue voter IDs that we mailed out to the people that Deidre just talked about so that they have their card as well, so no one gets left out. We have added – because of the soft rollout – the option to sign an oath of identity. Simply say, you know, I didn't bring it because I didn't understand all the information that this election. So we have them sign that document. They get to vote. That was part of the key part of the education component that we put in place that most states didn't do, so people would be still successful voting.
[YEPSEN] So you don't need an ID to vote.
[PATE] Correct. We would prefer you bring it because this is the dry run. This is the time to get acquainted with it and comfortable with it.
[YEPSEN] What do you make of this roll out, Ms. DeJear? [DEJEAR] You know, I think that the rollout lacked education. Our county auditors should not have been the brunt of the responsibility for this bill. Our Secretary of State, Mr. Pate, commissioned this bill. And in leading this bill, he should have also provided our county auditors with the adequate training tools, including the training tools that were necessary in those 40 special elections to make this soft rollout clean. You know, I've heard countless and countless stories of confusion. I remember in the primary, the poll workers were confused; the press was confused; the people voting were confused. This isn't something simple. This is our most fundamental right that we have as American citizens. And when we're going to change that, we have to make darn sure that we're changing it and educating people on those changes. It's been clear and concise that the confusion has been evident throughout the entire state.
[MURPHY] Mr. Pate, has your office done enough to educate the poll workers, and can you ensure Iowa voters that they won't be turned away for the wrong reasons this fall when they try to vote in this midterm election?
[PATE] Well, educating is a key component of what we've been doing. We have had a series of training opportunities for the county auditors. And we've developed training materials for the poll workers. What Ms. DeJear needs to remember is that the way our laws are written, the counties run the elections. They are local county commissioners of elections. We provide them resources, coach them to make them successful as best we can. They still have the on the ground job. I respect that. And they have certain authorities. There is a loophole in a state law that does not require auditors to do training for special elections. I intend on having that changed. So, the primary and the general election, those poll workers are being trained and were trained. We need to keep that emphasis on so that people will be successful in their voting. Let me also point out, the media continue to get the story wrong. You're right there. There was a Des Moines Register article today, an Op-Ed piece talks about photo ID in Iowa. Well, I want to ask, where's the media at? Read the law. Nowhere in there is it about a photo ID. Clearly the, these myths keep getting pushed and pushed. The facts are there. We've worked with over a hundred groups in educating people across the state. You name the group, we've invited them. If they're promoting voter ID, we want them to be part of it.
[YEPSEN] Ms. DeJear, media's fault?
[DEJEAR] I still flock to leadership. This is something truly fundamental in our country. And for us to put a lot of time and energy from the secretary of state's office, taxpayer dollars, into funding this change in voting, we needed clear, concise communication coming from the office. And that does not exist.
[YEPSEN] Mr. Pate, do you bear any responsibility at all for this confusion that we've been talking about? For example, why didn't you advocate just a flat out change? What is this slow roll out and gradual things and trial runs? Wouldn't it have been cleaner just to do it in one shot? Here's the old law, here's the new?
[PATE] Well that might be an easier just to say it that way, but when it comes to being practical about it, I looked at other states to see how they did it. And, anytime you have change there's going to be some people who haven't picked it up on all the details of it. The soft rollout allowed us to work with those poll workers, to work with the voters. Nobody gets disenfranchised because they also get to vote whether they have an ID or not. I thought that was the best approach.
[YEPSEN] And what about shortening the amount of time people have to cast absentee ballots?
[PATE] Well, that was not in my original bill, as you know David. I think the intent was very clear. There was those who were concerned about the campaigns voting too early. And we saw that in the primary, the gubernatorial primary on the Democrat side where –
[YEPSEN] So it wasn't aimed at the Democrats who tend to use absentee more?
[PATE] I don't think it was it all.
[YEPSEN] Ms. DeJear, was that aimed at Democrats?
[DEJEAR] You know, I don't know where it was aimed, but I could tell you who it impacted. In the primary, when early voting actually started at the time of the primary, our students were transitioning. They were either in finals week, they were trying to figure out where they were going to live for the summer. That 11 days, although it may seem mynute, specifically carved them out of the process. And students are, are our next voting block. They're the next generation, the folks that are going to get engaged. And we have to ensure that as they're here in our state learning that we need to also ensure that they are, uh, voting. That's how I first got connected with the voter process.
[MURPHY] Ms. DeJear, we want to move on to other topics, but real quick, this is a law that's in the courts right now. It was a legislative processes as you talked about. Largely out of your hands if elected to this office. So, is there something that you would seek to do as secretary of state or is talking about this just kind of a way to motivate Democratic voters who feel strongly about this?
[DEJEAR] Just what I said earlier, it's passed. And my dad always taught me don't harp on the hurdle, figure out a way to get over it. You get over it by getting out there and connecting with voters. And that's how we do it. But we have to have a secretary of state that's invested in doing just that.
[HENDERSON] Let's talk about the security of the vote. Mr. Pate, are the Russians coming?
[PATE] Well, I think they've been coming for many years. The Cold War's not over. They've been coming for many, many years. Trying to influence our government and our processes.
[HENDERSON] But do you think the vote that Iowans cast –
[PATE] I believe that we have the protection in place to keep those Russians and any other outsider from coming in and influencing our elections because of a couple of key factors. One, we don't vote on the Internet. We vote with paper ballot. That's pretty simplistic, but that's a really important part. Again, back to the poll workers, those are your neighbors, working at the polling sites. Another safeguard. Those are two key elements. Now, let's not underestimate the influence of propaganda and social media and the, and these dirty tricks that they play to try to confuse voters. That's important, and I would call it trust. We need to work very hard to assure the voters they can trust the elections process, whether it be their county auditors or the secretary of state's office. And that's the message I'm carrying from between now and November.
[HENDERSON] Ms. DeJear, if you were secretary of state, what would you be doing to counter Russian influence and the idea that the Russians have tried to hack the election?
[DEJEAR] Yes. The Center for American Progress gives our cyber hygiene, if you will, a C rating. And Iowa's better than a C rating. As secretary of state, what I would do is appoint a director of election security. We know that there are folks abroad, that are in rooms – they get paid to hack systems. We've seen it with Target; we've seen it with VISA; we seen it with Google; we've seen it with 21 states in our country trying to infiltrate the voting systems. It's ever evolving and it's changing every single day. We need someone dedicated to doing that. It's not enough to have a security clearance. We have to have the expertise in the office that's not being reactive, but being proactive, so that we're defending our vote and we're defending people's voter data. Because that's something that's so serious and so sacred, and we have to ensure that it's taken care of.
[MURPHY] Secretary Pate, in these extraordinary times, what additional steps has the office been taking? If I remember correctly, the state recently received some federal funds to help boost election security. What are you doing to ensure those voters, again, that their votes are going to be counted appropriately?
[PATE] Well, we started long ago. When I first came into office, we reached out to the office of OCIO, which is the state's IT directors, had them come in and do a complete review of our cyber systems to make sure we had all the safeguards and it's available. We've been partnering with the FBI. We've been partnering with the National Guard cybersecurity. We partner with Homeland Security. All these partnering together – we have put various filtering systems in, scanning systems in. We do have a cyber coach and navigator in our system. We do work with the OCIO office. We take it very, very seriously. Unfortunately, not everyone knows all the details because – for obvious reasons – we don't need to lay out all of our protection for them to know about it. But, the key thing here is assuring Iowans that we vote by paper ballot. We also have remedial backups for paper printouts, so if something were to go down on our voter registration list, we have another backup. We have things in the cloud that we have for protection as well. We have put all the safety measures in. And the survey you used, Deidre, is not even close to being accurate. There are many more better measurements out there, even from our own homeland security office – which I think there a bigger, better authority than another group might be on putting out these alphabet ratings.
[YEPSEN] Ms. DeJear, how do you respond to that?
[DEJEAR] They list a litany of things that we can do better, in our state, based on what we are doing as it relates to audits after each election and the security frameworks that are in place. And I take that seriously. Obviously, I'm not in the office right now, but once in, I will appoint someone to do that, because we need the expertise around that issue all the time.
[HENDERSON] Conducting an election is an expensive exercise for counties. They have to get a place to have it and then they have to pay poll workers. Some states around the country allow postcard voting. Mr. Pate, would you allow postcard voting for any of these elections in the state, like maybe bond elections?
[PATE] We have been looking at that, very closely, and we keep all those options out there. We have those discussions with the auditors to see where they think we should be going as well and what direction. I think there are a lot of good options. But remember, what we're operating under now has been very successful. We always can look for improvement. So we won't stop at that, but I also want to underscore that the election process itself is about 50-50 right now in the sense of people still want the old-school ‘I want to go vote; I want to be at a polling place and do that exercise.’ And then there's about 40% statewide who are leaning more towards wanting to do it by mail so –
[YEPSEN] Ms. DeJear, how do you feel about vote by mail?
[DEJEAR] I love the diversity that we have in our state that gives us options to vote. Voting in person, day of voting, early in person, voting by mail – those are options that can connect with several number of diverse types of Iowans, despite their work schedule. I think that it's less about our options at this point in time – because the options are out there – it's more about connecting with the voter. We know we have about 300,000 folks with disabilities in our state eligible to vote, but we've got 5 to 10% of them participating in the elections process. Let's better connect with them so that they understand how to exercise their right.
[HENDERSON] What about auto registration?
[DEJEAR] Automatic registration is very, very key. You know right now there's a framework of automatic registration. What I would like to happen is that the person is automatically registered, and if they want, they can opt out. You know, I was at the DOT the other day, and sometimes they were asking people about voter registration, sometimes they weren't. I want to make sure that that's a succinct process because that's going to give me an opportunity to better connect with the voter by having good data.
[YEPSEN] Is that a good idea?
[PATE] I think it's worth looking at. And we'll continue to look at it. I think we've got to make sure that people recognize that voting is a responsibility. That's a civic lesson as well. I'll also mention on disability, I've been very aggressive on that front and partnering with the auditors and the disabilities community. We have done 40-some community outreaches giving people information. We're expanding curbside voting for those with disabilities. It's more than a physical disability. So often people want to lean on that and I can tell you it's much more than that. So we have to be sensitive to that.
[MURPHY] Want to move on to a couple other topics. Governor Branstad, when he returned to office, added some layers to felon voting rights for people who have completed their sentence to get out of jail after having committed felonies. I'm wondering how each of you feel about that process, having to complete a questionnaire and ensure that all of their fines and court costs are paid, which critics of that equate to a poll tax. Mr. Pate, you first. Is that a fair system to ask people who have completed their debt to society to still have to jump through those hoops to, to cast a vote?
[PATE] Well, I've worked very closely with the governor's office under – Governor Reynolds to try to streamline that process. We have it down to basically 12 questions these people have to fill out. And no, you do not have to have your fine paid off. You do not have to all your restitution paid. You have to demonstrate you're making progress towards that. So we've done a lot to bring that around. We went through a lot of work to make sure that we have the most current lists, so those who have perhaps been a felon and had their rights restored aren't being penalized by going to a polling place and being told no, you're still on our felon list. One thing we do in Iowa, is we have provisional ballots. That's the safeguard so that everybody has a shot at voting on election day.
[YEPSEN] Ms. DeJear, how do you feel about felon voting rights?
[DEJEAR] I believe if someone is exiting prison and it's our expectation that they come back and add value to their communities, that we shouldn't ask them to do that and also take away their right to vote. In addition to that, that process can be streamlined a lot more. Not only are there the questions, but there are the records that that individual has to provide. And many times it costs for that individual to get those records.
[YEPSEN] You know, in some states – a few couple states, Vermont, I'm thinking of – Ms. DeJear, your voting rights aren't affected by your criminal record. Should we go to that?
[DEJEAR] You know, I think that's definitely something to look at. Especially if you're coming out of prison and you're trying to do good, you're trying to add value, you're trying to provide for your family. I think it's important. Voting is not only a fundamental right, but that's a gateway to civic engagement. That's a gateway to adding value to your community.
[YEPSEN] Mr. Pate, why not just let all felons vote?
[PATE] Well, I don't think that's what the intention was. When the legislature passed the various laws about criminal charges and that, they clearly said that we want you to complete your time in jail and also you need to show restitution in some form or another. And parole is part of that, let's not mistake that. Just because you're on a parole does not mean you know, you're back as a citizen with all your rights. And what they're doing with felons that are saying you need to take a few more steps. So I, I think what we're doing in Iowa is a fair way to do it. I would challenge others to help these people with their voter registration efforts if they want to do something.
[HENDERSON] We have half a minute left. Both of you have been active in your respective parties. What do you say to people from the other party to assure them that you would be an impartial administrator of this office? Mr. Pate?
[PATE] Well, first off, secretary of states cannot be partisan. They have to be the umpire. You don't get to wear a shirt, a team shirt on one side or the other. You've got to really play down the line what the rules are and assure Iowans of that. And that's what I want to tell them. My record shows I've been doing that. I work with Democrat and Republican county auditors to get the job done.
[YEPSEN] Ms. DeJear?
[DEJEAR] I believe partisanship has to stay as far away from this office as possible. You know, I've worked in both partisan and nonpartisan elections. I believe in the value of the vote, and the person is a voter before they're a Democrat; before they're Republican. I just want people to vote.
[YEPSEN] And I wish I had more time, but we're, we're out of it. Thank you both for being with us. Good luck to you both on the campaign trail.
[PATE] Thank you.
[DEJEAR] Thank you.
DeJear, D. [Iowa Press]. (2018, September 14) Iowa Secretary of State Candidates Paul Pate and Deidre DeJear [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0KAcSSmKcs] Retrieved on April 15, 2022 from https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC9FXtSEKZCWXrLcvjm5g6w.