Court injunction is only the beginning of the fight for voting rights in Iowa

By Evan McCullers, fellow, Let America Vote-Iowa

Last year’s passage of Iowa’s restrictive and unnecessary voter ID law dealt a devastating blow to the state’s voting rights.

The law, authored by Secretary of State Paul Pate and pushed through the Republican-controlled legislature in 2017, slashed the state’s early-voting period and implemented a voter identification requirement that limits access to the ballot box for people of color, disabled, young and low income voters.

Evan McCullers is a fellow for Let America Vote-Iowa

These kinds of barriers are being erected against eligible voters all over the country. They’re exactly the reason I volunteered as an intern for Let America Vote.

But we got good news in Iowa last Wednesday: A Polk County District Court judge issued a temporary injunction reversing some of the law’s worst provisions, including the cuts to early voting and the requirement to include a voter identification number on absentee ballots.

Judge Karen Romano found that the law represents “a clear burden” on voters and that Pate’s efforts to promote the law “substantially and directly interfere with Iowans’ constitutional right to vote.”

The court’s decision invalidating key elements of Sec. Pate’s voter suppression law is a win for Iowans who believe in equal access to the ballot box for all eligible voters. It’s also a victory for the dozens of interns and volunteers like me who have dedicated time and energy this year to increasing awareness of Republicans’ cynical voter suppression tactics and working to defeat them at the polls this fall.

Reinstating the 40-day early voting period — compared to the 29 days of early voting mandated by Pate’s law — gives Iowans two additional weekends to make their voices heard at the polls. Removing the burdensome voter identification number requirement on absentee ballots ensures all Iowans have an equal opportunity to exercise their constitutional right, regardless of race, age, disability or economic status.

The injunction is an important step for ensuring the Hawkeye State continues its democratic tradition of political engagement and participation, but it is far from the end of the fight against voter suppression in Iowa. The case could be appealed to the state Supreme Court, with uncertain prospects ahead of the November election.

We cannot rely solely on the courts to block Republicans’ attempts to win re-election by suppressing the vote. It is our responsibility to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box when they try to subvert democracy, and to replace them with voting rights champions who will ensure every Iowan gets a fair say at the polls.

That’s where Let America Vote comes in.

Let America Vote set up shop in Iowa following the passage of the voter suppression law with one simple goal: to create political consequences for politicians like Paul Pate who make it harder for people to vote.

We’re delivering those political consequences the old-fashioned way, one knock on the door at a time.

I’ve joined a passionate army of fellow interns, volunteers and Let America Vote staffers to blanket Iowa this year. We’ve combined to knock on more than 50,000 doors (so far) and engage in more than 7,500 meaningful conversations with voters. Those numbers should scare vote suppressors like Paul Pate more than any injunction.

Because while the courts play an important role in checking brazen efforts by Republicans to keep certain constituencies from voting, in the end, the fate of voting rights rests in the hands of the voters themselves.

By pounding the pavement through the dog days of summer, Let America Vote has sent a clear message to Iowa politicians who make it harder for the state’s citizens to exercise their constitutional right.

And we don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Evan McCullers is a fellow for Let America Vote-Iowa based in Scott County. He’s a graduate of Auburn University.