Elect Deidre DeJear to protect voting rights in Iowa

By Jason Kander, president, Let America Vote

There’s so much at stake for Iowans on the ballot this year.

Voters in November will elect a governor and choose which party controls the Iowa House and Senate, deciding, in effect, whether to lean further into the hard-right turn of the past two years or correct back toward an Iowa that includes everyone.

Iowans concerned about health care access, mental health services, public education, good jobs at fair wages and rural opportunity are paying close attention, and will surely send a loud-and-clear message at the ballot box.

But as a former Missouri secretary of state and the founder of an organization committed to protecting voting rights in America, let me offer this bit of advice: Iowans should invest similar attention in the race for secretary of state.

Iowa has an admirable tradition of free, fair and accessible elections, just as you’d expect in a state with such a history of political comity and bipartisan cooperation. When Iowa votes, the nation watches. But because of bad laws championed by the current secretary and forced into law by a Republican legislature and governor, those traditions are now under threat.

That means the result of the contest between incumbent Paul Pate, who has been running for political office since 1988, and challenger Deidre DeJear could have profound consequences for the free exercise of democracy in Iowa.

For the past four years, Pate has been the leading advocate for laws that complicate voting, raise costs, increase bureaucracy and, ultimately, disenfranchise eligible Iowans.

During Pate’s tenure, local election officials failed to count nearly 6,000 votes during the 2016 election — and then certified those undercounted, inaccurate results. Iowa’s early-vote period, a model for voter access, has been slashed by more than 25 percent, and its nation-leading same-day registration process has been undermined by onerous new paperwork requirements.

When Secretary Pate talks about “voter integrity” what he’s really talking about is entrenching his own political power by disqualifying from the ballot people more likely to vote against him and other Republicans. That’s anti-democratic, and all voters should reject it.

I’ve only recently started visiting Iowa, but I’m pretty sure Iowans don’t want a rigged voting system that helps one party get power. This is, after all, the state that for three decades elected Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley to serve side-by-side in the U.S. Senate. It’s the state that just a few years ago came together to expand health care on a bipartisan vote.

We can see how that tradition of cooperative government has been undermined over the last few years, as Republicans seized a rare period of control over the House, Senate and governor’s office to privatize the state’s Medicaid system, decimate workers’ rights and slash taxes for the wealthy — all while running budget deficits and failing to address pressing health care and mental health needs.

If Iowa is going to return to its tradition of accessibility and cooperation, it must elect voting-rights champions to the governor’s office, the legislature and, critically, the secretary of state’s office so elections are free and fair.

Deidre DeJear is one of those champions. She knows our democracy is stronger when more eligible voters participate in elections, and she’s devoted her political career to registering voters and ensuring Iowans make it to the polls.

Protecting voting rights is personal to Deidre. Her father grew up in Mississippi, where Jim Crow laws denied him the right to vote for many years. Now, Deidre could make history in November as the first African American elected to statewide office in Iowa.

Iowa voters have a clear choice in November. I hope they’ll vote on the side of democracy and voting rights, and to uphold the state’s long-standing traditions. I know I’ll be working to make sure they do.