DES MOINES — With Iowa’s controversial voter identification law poised to take effect, Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office plans to begin mailing ID cards this month.

About 123,000 registered voters who do not already have a valid Iowa driver’s license or other accepted identification will receive the cards.

The cards are free and will be sent automatically to roughly 6 percent of Iowa’s registered voters. Pate, the state’s elections commissioner, said the process is designed to ensure all registered voters in Iowa have an identification card starting with the 2018 elections. The state will mail free voter ID cards automatically to every registered voter who does not already have an Iowa driver’s license or non-driver’s ID.

“It should be easy to vote but hard to cheat, and that’s what this new law ensures,” Pate said in a statement.

Registered voters who have a valid driver’s license or non-operator identification card from the Iowa Department of Transportation will not receive a card. They need to take state-issued ID with them to the polls beginning in January 2018.

The law was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad despite concerns from Democrats and civil rights groups the law’s true intent was to suppress voter turnout.

Besides requiring ID and signature verification at the polls, the law also ends straight-party voting and shortens the early voting period from 40 to 29 days.

During 2018, voters will be asked to show ID before voting. Anyone without necessary ID will be asked to sign an oath verifying his or her identity before casting a ballot.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, Iowa voters will be required to show a driver’s license, nondriver’s ID, passport, military ID, veterans ID or state-issued voter ID card at the polls before they vote.

Voters without necessary ID may use an attester to swear to their identity and residency, or they will be offered a provisional ballot and allowed to provide ID later, up until the time of the county canvass of votes.

Jim Mowrer, a Democrat who is seeking his party’s 2018 nomination to become Iowa’s Secretary of State to replace Pate, took issue with the timing of the mailings in December.

“Sending out voting ID cards during the holidays and without the necessary public education campaign to alert voters of this change shows a lack of commitment and sincerity from Paul Pate,” Mowrer said in a statement. “There is no doubt that thousands of Iowans are going to misplace these ID cards and that thousands more will have a more difficult time participating in the democratic process because of Paul Pate.”

Proponents of the new law argued the changes will improve election integrity, but critics insist they will discourage turnout and raise costs to taxpayers.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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