Iowa Publishes Misleading Info To Drum Up Support For Voting Restrictions

Bill Clark/CQPHO

Iowa’s Republican secretary of state issued several misleading and inaccurate reports to the press regarding the frequency of voter fraud, according to e-mails from his own staff obtained by the Huffington Post and published this weekend.

In a bid to justify a host of voting restrictions he has proposed, Republican Paul Pate, the state’s top election official, told local reporters that 41 felons had cast ballots in the 2016 election and that more than 200 election day voter registrations had “bounced back” as invalid.

Yet deputy secretary of state for elections Carol Olson argued in an internal e-mail that neither of those findings are evidence of voter fraud, as Pate claimed. The voters with criminal records, she said, may have been urged by a poll worker to cast a provisional ballot—which would later be reviewed and tossed out as ineligible if indeed they were barred from voting. And the 200 invalid same-day registrations that bounced back, Olson added, could be attributed to human error.

“The vast majority of these ‘bounce-backs’ are sloppy addresses from voters in too much of a hurry when they register at the polls,” she wrote. “That’s a real reason to discourage EDR and a real reason to have pollbooks, but it’s not an indicator of illegal activity.”

She noted too that the review of same-day registrations only looked at 15 of the state’s 99 counties, painting an inaccurate picture of Iowa’s voter registration success rate.

Despite the lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud—which is vanishingly rare nationwide—Pate is currently pushing a bill that would require a voter ID at the polls, eliminated straight ticket voting, and mandate post-election audits of the vote. Versions of his bill have already passed Iowa’s House and Senate and are expected to be enacted soon.


Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.