Paul Pate, Joel Miller and David Andersen

Oct 21, 2016 | 29 min | Podcast | Transcript


Election integrity. Insinuations raising questions. Election administrators assuring confidence. Insights from state, county and academic election experts on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. The Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund at the Iowa PBS Foundation, a fund established to support local programming on Iowa PBS.


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, October 21 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Democracy's cornerstone is election integrity and voters' confidence in their ballot security. And that’s why those administering the coming general election are scrambling right now to ensure that ballots are counted and that the final results show only those ballots. Iowa's Secretary of State Paul Pate is the state's top election administrator. Linn County Auditor and Election Commissioner Joel Miller is responsible at the county level. And Iowa State University Political Science Professor David Andersen evaluates election campaigns including current claims of election rigging. Gentlemen, welcome to Iowa Press. It's nearly show time.

Borg: It is show time for Iowa Press, but I mean show time for you.

That's right.

Borg: Getting a little nervous, Mr. Miller?

Miller: I am, yes.

Borg: Why is that? Why would you be nervous?

Miller: Well, certainly the rhetoric seems to indicate that no matter how good a job I do I may get sued or people may not trust the results and we may not have a peaceful transition of power.

Borg: Okay. We'll stop it right there because those are the things we want to talk about. And the people joining me here at the table, Political Writer James Lynch of the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Mr. Pate, you held a news conference this week and almost the first words out of your mouth were, elections are not rigged. Why did you feel it necessary to make that declaration?

Pate: Well, because Iowa has a very proud reputation, we have a very clean and honest elections, our folks here work very hard to that and when someone wants to taint our reputation I'm going to be a little defensive about it. We have over 10,000 of our neighbors on the front line, we can talk about precinct workers and precinct watchers, both republican and democrats, we have county auditors, we have a full array of Iowans who are there to make sure these elections are operating on the up and up. So if someone wants to imply otherwise I'm a little sensitive to it.

Henderson: Mr. Andersen, what ran through your head when you read all of the accounts of what Mr. Trump, the someone he referenced has been saying about the election?

Andersen: I find it kind of horrifying because once you make an allegation of rigging or that an election is rigged it's really, really difficult to disprove it. When you allege that fraudulent votes have been cast after the fact there's really no way to go back and verify millions of ballots and prove to people who just want to doubt the election.

Henderson: Mr. Miller, you made reference in answer to Dean's opening question about what you're hearing. What are your thoughts in regards to a rigged election?

Miller: I just think it's a bogus accusation, has no foundation. That's not what we should be talking about at this point in time. And it really undermines, as Secretary Pate said, all of the people that are required to work the election on any given day. Those are our neighbors and our friends and people that have worked elections for 20, 30, 40 years and who have done an excellent job considering all the laws that they have to abide by. And to tell them and imply that they are doing something wrong I think is, well, hurtful to say the least and just overwhelming.

Henderson: Mr. Pate, your predecessor did an investigation because there have been concerns voiced by people such as Congressman Steve King that people who are not eligible to vote are and there has been this effort to purge felons from the list. There was a very celebrated case here in which a felon who had voted was prosecuted. Aren't there instances of voter fraud in Iowa?

Pate: Well, first, it's not a perfect system. Like anything else we work very hard to do the best we can and there's always going to be some bad guy who tries to take advantage of the system. That's why we work so hard to protect it. We're going to continue to do just that. Voting should be easy but it also should be hard to cheat. We have to balance the two out and we're going to keep doing that. We've done a good job on the felon issue. We've put together for the first time a complete list of all felons who have had their rights restored and that is now available to the auditors to help them as a tool. We also have the list of felons who have not had their rights restored. Now, are the lists perfect? Probably not. There's going to be some issues we're going to have to work through. That's why we have provisional ballots so that if we have a question we can work through that phase where we hold the ballot until we can confirm it. We have assured the auditors if they call us we will physically go down to the paper archives down in the dungeons of the Capitol and look up the physical paperwork on those individuals. So we're stepping up to it.

Borg: Provisional, just let me raise a question some viewers might -- I want to interrupt right now to clear that up. If that provisional ballot is held and you know that, if it's my ballot, then when you look at that ballot you know how I voted.

Pate: No, we don't look at the ballot. It's in the secrecy envelope so we're not seeing how you voted. It is put in an envelope, set aside and it is not put into the voting machine to be counted yet.

Borg: I just wanted to clear that up. Jim?

Lynch: Despite the assurances you've just given us that the election is fair and honest, a new poll out this morning from Politico and Morning Consult says that 46% of people are concerned about voter fraud. Does that concern you that nearly half of everybody coming through the polls, Secretary Pate, is worried that their vote might not count or that a dead person is going to vote right after them or that the person in front of them is a non-citizen? How much does that concern you? And how you do allay those fears in voters' minds?

Pate: Well it bothers me a great deal because that's exactly what we just pointed out. Negative sells better. Someone goes out and yells these negative things, people are going to grasp onto it. We have to work extra hard. So that means for one negative comment we've got to go out with seven or eight positives and point out what we're doing right. And so our work is cut out for us. So yeah it bothers me because voting is one of the most important rights and privileges we have as Americans and so many of our military have put it on the line to give it to us and protect it. So if a politician goes out and yells from the rooftop that it's corrupt and it's crooked, that's simply the wrong message. It's not. It's a good, wholesome, honest system but we are humans so there is always going to be a bad guy trying to sneak something in and we're going to be there to stop them.

Lynch: Mr. Andersen, you talked about disproving fraud. Secretary Pate said there are always instances. When there's one instance of fraud or a couple found in the state, what does that do to sort of the overall confidence in that election?

Andersen: Well, I think if there's any instances people get nervous and they worry about how prevalent and systematic this is. But we've seen throughout the nation is that very few cases of voter fraud are ever detected and when they do trigger more systematic searches there's very little evidence that there's anything other than isolated incidents. An important thing to remember is that when you say a rigged election you're talking about not just some fraud but systematic fraud, that somebody is biasing the election in favor of a party or a candidate. And that is exceedingly difficult to do. You have to basically dupe thousands of people who are working in the election system. It's an allegation that it's not just one person is out there casting ten or twenty votes illegally, it’s that thousands of people are collaborating to throw away our democratic system.

Borg: Mr. Andersen, I'd like to take Jim's question just a bit further, and that is what does it do though also this allegation of possible rigging and doubts that polls are taken now, that up to 40% of people have doubts about the integrity of the election, what does that do to the ensuing years of just the way that civil discourse occurs in this country?

Andersen: It poisons it. The whole premise of democracy is that we have an election, we respect the winner, the losers don't have to like that they lost but they agree to work within the system and we move forward. But when you allege that the system is rigged that cooperation doesn't take place. For the intervening years until the next election the losing party or candidate can stand aside and say, well I'm not going to cooperate and we're not going to work together to solve our problems.

Borg: That's why you used the word horrifying earlier because you see problems coming in coming months and about the allegations that have been raised now?

Andersen: Yes. If you look especially at our federal Congress, there's nothing getting done within Congress. There's very little cooperation between the parties. And it's hard to envision that getting any better so that we can actually work on the nation's problems if there are allegations that the election of the President of the United States is not valid. If poisons the system and it can't work anymore.

Henderson: Mr. Miller, let's talk about some of the mechanics. Let's say someone has cast an absentee ballot, they put it in the envelope, they mail it in, some people have the idea that that's immediately counted. Tell us the process for dealing with an absentee ballot.

Miller: Well, the absentee ballots arrive in our office and then they are stored. It is indicated in our records that we received it and you can actually track the progress of that ballot from the time that the request was made through the system until we have received it. So they can see that online. It is stored and then on the Monday before the election, depending upon how many ballots we would have, for example in Linn County, then we might start the process of opening the affidavit envelope and separating the affidavit envelope from the ballot. Now, it depends on how many we have. If we can get it all done on Election Day then we start the counting on Election Day. But if we are overwhelmed with too many ballots then we can start on the Monday before. So we count them on Election Day, they are the first results reported at 9pm on Election Night.

Lynch: How many people do you think will vote early this year, Secretary Pate?

Pate: Well, traditionally about 40%, 43% was what we had last presidential election year and I think it will be pretty close to that.

Lynch: So you may be overwhelmed, Joel?

Miller: Well, it doesn't look like we're going to be overwhelmed right now because some of the parties started later with their mailings, closer to the election date, so we've got numbers to make up if we're going to get to what we had in 2012.

Borg: I just would like to, talking about voter integrity here, Mr. Miller, increasingly we have early voting and a lot of this is done not in county auditors offices, it is done out at satellite locations where I might envision you don't have all the safeguards in place that you do on Election Day at the regular polling place. Would it be easier to have voter fraud at a satellite voting site than it is on Election Day? It just seems to me that some of these go to a grocery store or a corner drug store and have a satellite voting place, doesn't seem to me that all of the safeguards are in place there to ensure the ballot integrity.

Miller: We run the satellite voting places the same as we do on Election Day. So the key is having enough space, having enough personnel to go through the process. And we can ask for identification if there is ever a question with someone. That is already in the law. And so you can't expect our precinct election officials to know who the people are that are coming to the satellite whereas in the precinct, and that's probably the only difference, in the precinct lots of times you have the same people working the precinct so they know their neighbors, they know people who have voted there before and they can identify them, they greet them and so forth. In the satellites they're not going to know everyone. But we go through the same process, we ask them who they are, we confirm their address, we confirm their name and if we need to, if there is some doubt, then we can obviously ask for an identification. It's not required and if they don't produce that then we have other means to process them. But the security and the safety is not any less at the satellites than --

Pate: Joel makes a good point. We have a tremendous amount of checks and balances and safeguards from testing the voting equipment, repeatedly testing the voting equipment, there are certain devices we put on there so nobody can tamper with them. The actual balloting itself is a paper ballot so that we can go back and do an audit, if you will, for that. Every single ballot these auditors print has to be accounted for when we're done. If it gets spoiled or damaged we still have to have it as a receipt showing, so if you started with 10,000, there has to be 10,000 when we're done. It's like money. We treat it very seriously. So the integrity is, again, protected I think.

Borg: And I'm not able to request an absentee ballot for my shut-in neighbor who I know is not going to get to the polls. I can't vote for him or her?

Pate: No. No you cannot.

Lynch: Secretary Pate, let's follow up on what you were just talking about, the testing and preparations. The concern now of course is hacking the voting system. Should I be concerned that somebody over in Russia is going to decide who the next president is or who my county supervisor is?

Pate: Well, they're not going to do it at the voting ballot site because we don't vote online, we don't vote by email. As I said a moment ago, we vote with paper ballots. You have to do it the old fashioned way so that ensures that integrity. When it comes to the voter registration databases, again, those are the ones we have to work very hard, and we do, we work with Homeland Security, we work with the FBI, we work with our state's OCIO, we work with our own IT people and our vendors to make sure that is protected. We have a redundancy system set up so that should someone manage to play a game on us. We have another master file to go back and look at. But technology is the future, James, you're right. We know we have to keep that game going and that's my priority at the legislature this year is they need to fund us at a better level because we have to get ahead of the bad guys, we need to be ready to deal with these things and also we want to give the auditors more resources so that when they're looking to see if you're an eligible voter you have all the information in front of you.

Lynch: Unlike the old lever machines, some of the voting equipment is sort of high tech. It's not susceptible to a virus or a worm?

Pate: No. They're not connected, they're not connected with the Internet. But, again, there's paper. You're filling it out, we're putting it into the reader, there's a reader that counts it, but we still manually have the right and option to go back and manually count, and we have done that. We have had to do canvasses when we have close elections where human beings sit down at the table, republican and democrats, and go through one for Pate, one for Joel, one for Pate, one for Joel and read them. So we have --

Borg: Does a move toward increasing technology and voting by the Internet worry you?

Pate: I'm not prepared to go to the Internet at this time because we're not close to being ready for it.

Henderson: Let's stick with you, Mr. Pate, we're taping this discussion on Friday morning. What can you tell us about early numbers which Mr. Miller referenced earlier?

Pate: Again, they're not as high as they have been in the past. The political parties drive that because of what they do. I think the Democratic Party has done probably at least three, maybe four mailings. The republicans I know have done one. But what we're seeing right now is 422,000 absentee ballots that have been requested and we've had 236,000 ballots that were actually returned to the county auditors right now. That breaks down to about 182,000 from the democrats and 150,000 from the republicans and 89,000 from the no parties. So it is a little slower than what we had four years ago. But I think they started a little later too, both parties have. So the real question was let's watch this week's numbers.

Henderson: Mr. Miller, can you look at those numbers and sort of extrapolate what may happen in the first congressional district race, which is among the top ten races in the country in terms of competitiveness?

Miller: No, I'm not going to look at those numbers and tell you what that means.

Pate: You don't want to do the Johnny Carson I'll read --

Miller: I think there's more democrats in that district than there are republicans and that did not work against the incumbent the last time so who knows how it will work this time.

Borg: Well, he gave the numbers for absentees statewide. What are you seeing in Linn County as far as just Linn County?

Miller: Well, as of last night we had 15,513 return ballots out of about 25,000. So the returns are coming up but we're still down, we're still down from 2012, which is kind of our measuring stick.

Lynch: Professor Andersen, I'll ask you this question because I think I know the answer I would get from the other two gentlemen here. But, given all the concern about election integrity, should the people who oversee the elections be appointed rather than elected? Should they be people whose name won't appear on a ballot?

Andersen: I don't see the benefit from that. If people are appointed rather than elected they kind of become names without a face. By electing people everybody knows who our Secretary of State is.

Borg: But the real question there is, Joel Miller is on the ballot and yet he's the election commissioner.

Andersen: It's a tricky situation. The other option is we elect a Governor who then appoints somebody of their party to fill that position and that makes that person less visible to the public and creates its own problems. The Florida election in 2000, one of the big problems was the Secretary of State, who was overseeing the election recount, was also a co-chair of the party that she was recounting for. You can't escape these problems. You can't force people to be non-partisan, you can't force people to be unbiased. The best you can do is turn it over to a democratic system and allow people to have faith in their votes.

Henderson: Mr. Pate, you may not be able to answer this until after the election, but you have been involved in an effort to enlist new voters, particularly millennials. Are you seeing fruits in that effort?

Pate: Well, were excited about it. We launched between online voter registration in January and the, I'll say that again,, tool that they can download on their cell phone for all Iowans frankly to get tech alerts on when there's an election and how you can get your absentee ballot and where to go vote. We think that's going to help the millennials because they are really into that very strongly. We've seen on online voter registrations basically the 25, 26 year unders have really taken advantage of it. We've got nearly 20,000 people who have utilized that online service already to register to vote, not to vote, just to register and that is verified through their driver's license.

Lynch: Let's talk about overseeing elections, the federal elections. One of the defenses people sometimes use and I think I've heard you use is that there is no national election, it's county by county by county. Would we be better off if we had uniform federal elections run by the federal government, everybody getting the same ballot, voting in the same way rather than this sort of hodgepodge of locally controlled elections?

Borg: Mr. Andersen?

Andersen: I will go out on a limb and I would say no because this is an area where states are better able to tune elections to their own population. An example is I'm from New Jersey and New Jersey elections are a lot different than Iowa elections. The idea that in Iowa I can go to my precinct and I probably know who is running my precinct, New Jersey I never knew. Most of the communities I lived in, in New Jersey were so large that I didn't know my precinct workers, they didn't know me, so you have to have a different system in place. If you go to a national system you kind of get a blanket set of rules and I think something is lost there. I think another benefit of a very complicated system is it's harder to rig. If the masterminds from Russia decided they wanted to rig the American presidential election, well good luck. You have to figure out how the 50 states run their elections, how the 3,000 plus counties oversee their elections. It's so complicated that it is nearly impossible to rig.

Lynch: Mr. Miller, do you agree that you can do a better job of running the election than someone in Washington, D.C.?

Miller: Yes. And I think that is because once you set that federal standard across all of the election administrations then that is the bar that everyone has to reach in order to meet those minimum requirements. And I think it takes out of the equation things that local election administrators try to do. For example, my vision is every person engaged in local government. That is not necessarily the vision of my neighbor auditors. I'm really concerned about voter turnout. I've been working for nine plus years to increase voter turnout. But is that one of my duties, statutory duties? No. But that's something I came into office trying to increase, trying all kinds of methods to reach the voters and get them to participate and engage in the process because I think the more people participate the more they buy into the end result.

Lynch: Secretary Pate, shouldn't the ballot be the same whether I vote at Bethany Lutheran in Cedar Rapids or in New Jersey where Professor Andersen came from?

Pate: Well, I think the American public has spoken pretty loud and clear on it. Their level of confidence in the federal government is pretty low. It's much higher when you look at state government and it's even higher when you go to the county and the local level because they know them, it's their neighbors. Again, back to that, it's really that. That is the foundation of our elections in Iowa. That is what has made it successful is when we bring it down to the precinct level I know who they are and if I have an issue I can look them in the eye and say hey, I want to talk about this, what's going on? What are you doing back behind that table? It's much easier and more accessible. So I think that makes a world of difference.

Henderson: Mr. Andersen, as a researcher, on November 8th, what data do you want to dig into to look at the mechanics of this election?

Andersen: What I'm interested in November 8th is turnout. I want to see who is turning out and if it's different than in previous years. It's the big unknown this cycle is who is going to show up to vote? We have an electorate unlike any electorate we've ever seen before. It continues to get more diverse. But it seems like this year the normal partisan groupings are kind of breaking down. Donald Trump may attract some democratic voters, some republican voters may turn out for Hillary. We really have no idea what the election is going to look at on November 8th.

Henderson: As the state's election commissioner, what data do you want to see as you prepare the argument for legislators that you need more money, which we heard you say?

Pate: In all fairness, they're making my case every day when they go out and try to impugn the integrity of our election system. If they really feel that way then they need to put more money behind putting the technology online. But I would tell you, my crystal ball shows that I think both parties are going to have their traditional base come out and vote. The ones who are going to decide the future really, really are going to be the millennials, specifically the 18 to 26 year olds. Watch that group. That is my prediction. Watch that group.

Borg: Why? Why?

Pate: Because they are still fresh. They have not been tainted. They have a passion still because they want a piece of the American dream. And as I go visit with them on the campuses of our colleges they haven't made their mind up. They haven't said I'm a republican or I'm a democrat. They're listening. So go, candidates listen, go.

Borg: And we have to go too because time is up. Thank you very much for sharing your insights. And next week on Iowa Press another of our election special editions leading up to next month's general election. Third District republican incumbent Congressman David Young and democrat Jim Mowrer will be at the Iowa Press table debating who is best to represent Central and Southwest Iowa. You'll see that hour-long Iowa Press Debate live from the campus of Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. It will be on the air and online Wednesday night at 8:00 and then again at 7:00 Friday night and repeated again 11:30 next Sunday morning. Please note the earlier Iowa Press times too next weekend. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. The Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund at the Iowa PBS Foundation, a fund established to support local programming on Iowa PBS.

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