Iowa Sec. of State: Voters without ID just need to ‘get up off the La-Z-Boy’

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, the driving force behind a restrictive new voting law, offered some revealing comments about his state’s voters Friday.

Pate, a Republican, spoke to a local GOP group about the new Iowa law’s voter ID provision. As we’ve reported, the measure also cuts early voting, and eliminates straight-ticket voting, among other steps.

“The driver’s license is the primary [ID], because 95 percent of our registered voters have a driver’s license,” Pate said, according to the Times-Republican of Marshalltown, Iowa. As for the 5 percent who don’t, Pate added, “we’re going to mail a free card, a voter card, and it’ll have the barcode on it, so the only thing they have to do is get up off the La-Z-Boy chair and go out to the mailbox and grab the card, and now they’re set.”

Leave aside for now the more important substantive concerns about whether every registered voter will actually get a free ID mailed to them. And about whether the $50,000 the state has allocated to educate Iowans about the new law, which represents a major overhaul of elections, is nearly enough. What’s most striking here is Pate’s vision of voters without ID lounging in their living rooms while the government takes care of them.

The secretary of state probably thought he was being light-hearted. But this image doesn’t come from nowhere. It’s part of a broader mindset shared by some public officials that sees laziness as the main reason why people don’t vote, and that chafes at having to make voting as convenient as possible.

It’s frighteningly easy to find examples of this view, but one of the clearest came from Michael Bennett, a Florida Republican lawmaker, during a 2011 debate about a bill to cut early voting.

“Voting is a privilege. How easy should it be?” asked Bennett. “Do you read the stories about the people in Africa … who literally walk two and three hundred miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient? How much more convenient do you want to make it?”

In fact, most people lead busy lives — especially those who tend not to have photo ID, like students, the working poor, and the homeless. And studies suggest a lack of time is a major reason why people don’t vote. Imagining these would-be voters as couch potatoes who can barely make it out to the mailbox suggests a basic misunderstanding of what life is like for many people, especially those who are less privileged. And it’s a subtle way of allowing government officials to shirk responsibility for encouraging voting, and instead blame voters.

Pate’s comments are hardly the biggest scandal in the world. But they’re troubling as an example of a much broader phenomenon, especially coming from a state’s top elections official, whose job is supposed to be about making voting easier.

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