Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced new steps last month to remove non-citizens from Iowa voter rolls. He’ll need to defend those actions in court soon against attorneys representing the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
UPDATE: Added Schultz’s statement below.
This year’s general election is the first to be administered by Schultz, a Republican who defeated Secretary of State Mike Mauro in November 2010. Throughout that campaign and since taking office, Schultz has vowed to combat alleged voter fraud in Iowa. A toll-free "voter fraud hotline" is advertised near the top of the front page on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. Ryan Foley reported recently for the Associated Press that investigators have failed to uncover any evidence of fraud in cases opened so far. But Schultz remains vigilant. He described some of his pre-emptive steps in an interview with Radio Iowa on July 20.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz wants to check the state’s voter registration rolls against a federal database to make sure non-citizens aren’t casting votes in Iowa elections. Schultz has already checked the lists of registered Iowa voters against lists of people who are here legally on visas or green cards, but who aren’t U.S. citizens.
“I don’t have the exact number off the top of my head, but I can tell you there were more than a thousand hits,” he says. The “hits” came when Schultz compared voter registration rolls with Iowa Department of Transportation records, because legal non-citizens – who have a visa or a green card – can get a drivers license.
“We vetted that and it’s shown that several of them have voted as well,” Schultz says. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to let the states submit an application to check the immigration status of voters before purging them from the rolls.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens announced yesterday that they are going to court to block two of Schultz’s initiatives. Their joint press release is worth reading in full.
ACLU of Iowa, League of United Latin American Citizens File Request for Injunction To Stop New Voter Suppression Rules
Des Moines, Iowa — The ACLU of Iowa and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa today filed a request for an injunction to halt the improper implementation of two voter suppression rules by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz.
The first voter suppression rule allows Schultz to purge Iowa’s voter registration list by comparing with it unspecified federal and state agency lists. Schultz has not specified which lists he is using. “The public has no way to be sure he’s using accurate, up-to-date information to remove voters from Iowa’s voter lists,” said ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Ben Stone. “The potential for erroneous information is huge.”
The second voter suppression rule would create a new, unreliable way for people to make voter fraud complaints to the Secretary of State’s office. The new method would skirt Iowa law by removing a requirement that the person swear to the truth of their allegation, with criminal penalties for false reports.
The ACLU and LULAC also assert that under Iowa law, Schultz doesn’t have the legal authority to implement these rules and by doing so, is in violation of the law.
“This illegal effort by the Secretary of State to purge Iowa’s voter list threatens to deprive eligible registered Iowa voters of their constitutionally protected right to vote,” said Stone. “We want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Also, the ACLU and LULAC are concerned about Schultz’s timing and procedure. Schultz provided no public notice about implementation of these voter suppression rules. And he is doing so right before the general election in November. “Schultz implemented these rules unilaterally on July 20 without proper authority to do so and without giving any notice to the public.”
Iowa LULAC State Director Joseph Enriquez Henry said, “To begin a purge of registered voters so close to the fall elections is unconscionable. We urge Mr. Schultz to cease his political activity and to keep politics out of the elected office that he holds.”
Stone concurs: “We demand that the Secretary of State immediately rescind these rules and stop playing political games with the voting rights of eligible voters in Iowa.”
Henry said he is concerned that the purge is most likely to erroneously identify Latinos in Iowa, especially new citizens or citizens with last names similar to registered non-citizens, who are not eligible to vote.
“Iowa’s Secretary of State has taken it upon himself to conduct a witch hunt upon the minority community in Iowa, specifically targeting the 152,000 Latinos who live here,” said Henry. “This summer we expect to identify and register 40,000 Latinos who are Iowa citizens. We are very worried that they will be wrongfully and erroneously purged.”
Legal counsel for the case is Des Moines attorneys Dan Johnston and Joseph Glazebrook of Glazebrook and Moe, LLP, as well as Nancy Abudu and Laughlin McDonald of the national ACLU Voting Rights Project.
Johnston and Glazebrook prepared a joint statement on the case: “We are pleased to be able to assist with this case, which seeks to vindicate the rights of all Iowans. Secretary Schultz has not only engaged in an effort to restrict voting rights-he has done so outside the legislative process. This is something we cannot sit by and allow to happen.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens was founded 83 years ago. It is the largest national Latino and Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group in the United States. It works to improve opportunities for Hispanics and Latin Americans across a wide range of issues, including voter rights. Iowa LULAC is active through several councils in the state.
The ACLU of Iowa is a private, non-partisan organization that fights to advance civil liberties for all. It is the state affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU prides itself in upholding everyone’s civil liberties, no matter who they are or what they believe. We have worked to assure the rights of all Iowans-from atheists to devout Christians, from labor unions to businesspeople and more-to make sure the constitutional rights of all are preserved. For more information, please go to www.alclu-ia.org
I am seeking comment from Schultz and will update this post as needed. There’s not much time for the district court to hear this case before the election, but Josh Hafner reported for the Des Moines Register,
The two groups expect a hearing next week to be followed by a later injunction hearing.
“We really hope the Secretary would rescind these rules, that’s the easiest way to undo this,” [ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Ben Stone] said.
UPDATE: The Iowa Secretary of State’s office released this statement on August 9:
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz Comments
on Recent Rule Change
(Des Moines)-On Wednesday, August 8, 2012, a suit was filed against the Iowa Secretary of State regarding procedures for removing ineligible non-citizens from voter registration rolls in Iowa. Secretary Schultz believes the concerns are unfounded and that the rules actually enhance the due process available to anyone subject to removal. Secretary Schultz made the following statement:
“Working with the Iowa DOT, my office has identified more than a thousand registered voters who are potentially not citizens of this country. The federal government maintains a database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE). SAVE maintains information about an individual’s immigration status, including whether they have become naturalized as a citizen and, if so, when. After seeking access to this database in order to verify the citizenship status of these individuals, we finally were informed in late July that the federal government would give the State of Iowa access to that database to verify citizenship and that Iowa would be required to submit a new application. As a result we immediately enacted administrative rules to clarify to the federal government, and the public, what legal process we would use to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls. The new rules enhance the due process available to individuals identified through this effort.
To be as fair as possible in this process, we are giving every individual a hearing prior to being removed from the voter rolls. No county auditor, I repeat, no auditor has been directed to remove any person’s name from the voter registration rolls for being a non-citizen. There is no purge of non-citizens taking place in Iowa and to say otherwise is a misrepresentation of the facts.
Our only intent has been to work for integrity and honesty in elections. That is what the people of Iowa hired me to do and I take it as a serious responsibility of this office.”
AUGUST 17 UPDATE: The Des Moines Register’s editorial board is on target in today’s column.
Under Schultz’s new procedure, alleged non-citizens whose names turn up in the cross-check would get a letter giving them 14 days to dispute the citizenship challenge or ask the local county auditor to cancel their voter registration. For good measure, the letter will inform recipients that illegally registering to vote is a class D felony. That alone could prompt some legitimately registered voters to withdraw their registration to avoid risking criminal prosecution.
Such a fundamental change in Iowa voting procedure that has the potential to disenfranchise legitimate voters should have been thoroughly considered, debated in public and considered by the Iowa Legislature. Instead, Schultz published the new rules in an obscure state bulletin the same day they took effect. There was no public notice, no opportunity for discussion, and by using an “emergency” procedure he bypassed the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee.
What emergency? Schultz has been in office close to three years, yet he waits until a presidential election is three months away to challenge people’s voter registrations? By the time the cross-checking is completed, letters go out and registered voters exercise their right to appeal, the election could have come and gone. That is wrong.
Iowa’s 99 elected county auditors, the primary overseers of elections down to the precinct level, officials who are both Republicans and Democrats, have opposed earlier election “reform” proposals by Schultz. The elections they manage are neighborhood events, where polling workers are voters’ friends, neighbors and relatives. This process has worked flawlessly for a century and a half. Never before has its legitimacy, fairness or accuracy been seriously questioned.