DES MOINES — As Iowa’s controversial voter identification law is poised to start taking effect, Secretary of State Paul Pate said Monday his office plans to begin mailing ID cards this month to about 123,000 registered voters who do not already have a valid Iowa driver’s license or state identification card.

The cards are free and will be sent automatically to roughly 6 percent of Iowa’s registered voters. Pate, who serves as the state's elections commissioner, said the process is designed to ensure all registered voters in Iowa have an identification card to use when voting, starting with the 2018 elections.

“It should be easy to vote, but hard to cheat, and that’s what this new law ensures,” Pate said in a statement. “We are taking the unprecedented step of mailing free voter ID cards automatically to every registered voter who does not already have an Iowa driver’s license or non-driver’s ID. Only those Iowans will receive these cards. I encourage them to be on the lookout for the Voter ID cards in the mail, and when they receive their card, open it, sign it and keep it.”

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

House File 516 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 that 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 period allowed for early voting from 40 to 29 days.

During the 2018 calendar year, voters will be asked to show their ID before voting at the polls. Anyone who does not have the 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, non-driver’s ID, passport, military ID, veterans ID or state-issued voter ID card at the polls before they vote.

Voters without the necessary ID may use an attester to swear to their identity and residency, or 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.”

His statement asserted that Pate “has focused on making it as expensive and bureaucratic as possible to vote."

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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