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Secretary Paul Pate

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


Voter fraud might be a legitimate concern in other parts of the nation but not here.

According to Secretary of State Paul Pate, whose office oversees voter registration and the balloting process, voting irregularities in Iowa are minimal. He credits, in great part, Iowa’s impressive network of more than 9,000 volunteer poll workers, elected officials and professional staff who help to run elections.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on the strength of our local touch,” Pate said. “It makes a difference when the people at the polls know the people who are casting votes. Do we have incidences of voter fraud here? Yes. There are stupid people who have done stupid things—like trying to use the absentee ballot process to cast votes for two or three relatives. But do I believe it’s rampant—absolutely not!”

Secretary Pate was in Elkader last week to meet with Clayton County Auditor Jennifer Garms and her staff. His visit was part of a swing through Northeast Iowa to determine whether local auditors needed information beyond that provided in statewide training sessions. In addition to his time with Garms, Pate took a tour of the courthouse, which he hadn’t visited in more than 15 years.

“A lot of work has been done there since my last visit,” he said. “It’s really a nice building.”

Pate’s visit to Elkader was documented with a photo on Facebook. The secretary is a big believer in using technology to educate and manage the activities of his office. When he returned to office in 2015—Pate also served as Secretary of State from 1995-1999—a top priority was instituting online voter registration.

“I was gone for a long time and when I came back it was like technology had stalled,” he said. “There were entire service areas that had missed the whole Bill Gates era. So implementing technology in a responsible way was important to me.”

The efforts of his office have paid off handsomely: The first year online registration was available, more than 70,000 voters signed up. The domino effect has been shorter lines and wait times at polling places.

(The website for online registration is The site can also be used to sign up to receive election reminders or apply for an absentee ballot.)

Pate also had high praise for Iowans’ commitment to the democratic process. Iowa is currently number four in the nation for voter participation in general elections. A federal law prevents Pate’s office from removing the database’s more than 200,000 “phantom” voters—people who are registered but haven’t voted in more than a decade. Pate believes many of those people no longer reside in Iowa. If those names could be deleted Pate believes Iowa’s voter turnout would be first or second in the nation.

Voting is just part of the work that goes on in Pate’s office. A significant amount of time is spent in commerce activity, as well. Pate has seen an impressive increase in business start-ups since returning to office. Many of the new business have been Main Street enterprises or small, privately owned businesses.

Pate, a Republican who lives in Cedar Rapids, is up for re-election in 2018, though he has yet to decide whether he will seek office again.

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