No Iowa impact

No Iowa impact

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Decision's effect on voter fraud investigation unclear

A decision by a United States District Court on Thursday invalidating a Texas law requiring voters to have photo identification is unlikely to have much impact in Iowa, according to a University of Iowa College of Law legal scholar.

Todd Pettys, an expert in constitutional law, says that the decision of the United States District Court in Washington, DC, is not a sweeping prohibition that bars states from requiring photo identification for voters. The three-judge panel ruled that the law violates the Voting Rights Act by imposing "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty. Those who opposed the law said that poverty made it more difficult for minorities to pay for the documents required to obtain a photo ID in Texas, making it an unfair burden.

todd pettys
Todd Pettys

But Pettys says the ruling is likely to have only a limited impact on the national debate about voter ID laws.

“Under the Voting Rights Act, voting laws in Texas and a handful of other states get much closer scrutiny from courts because of those states’ long history of racial discrimination in voting-related matters,” he says. “The actions of officials in Iowa, for example, are not subjected to the same high degree of scrutiny.”

Pettys says the judges themselves also noted the narrowness of their decision to the particulars of the Texas case. They make it clear that, even in closely scrutinized states like Texas, photo identification would clear constitutional hurdles if the IDs were widely available free of charge and all documents needed to obtain them were free. The United States Supreme Court has already upheld a voter photo ID law in Indiana.

In Iowa, the Secretary of State’s office has recently begun an investigation into allegations of voter fraud in the state. Pettys said that given the narrowness of Thursday’s ruling, it’s difficult to draw direct inferences about what the law would demand in Iowa.


Tom Snee, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell)


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