Iowa Secretary of State may sue for access to federal database

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz told the Des Moines Register that he may sue the federal government for access to the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database. Schultz needs that database to move forward with a new procedure for removing suspected non-citizens from Iowa’s voter rolls in the future.  

Polk County District Court Judge Mary Pat Gunderson issued a temporary injunction last week to block Schultz from implementing the new voter roll maintenance procedures before the 2012 general election. Further litigation will determine whether Schultz can implement the rules at all. While Judge Gunderson emphasized that last week’s decision did not concern the merits of the case, I don’t give Schultz good chances of successfully defending the rules. The ruling ordering temporary injunction rejected almost every legal argument advanced by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office on Schultz’s behalf.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble, Schultz sought to shift the blame to foot-dragging federal officials.

“I hate to speculate, but I can tell you, it’s starting to smell a little rotten,” Schultz said. “I’ve done everything I could. I’ve followed their rules. I’ve tried to operate under their framework.”

Schultz has been seeking access since early summer to a federal database that he hopes to use to check the citizenship status of 3,582 registered voters identified as non-citizens through state transportation records.

The federal government has delayed the request for months, however, asking Schultz’s office to explain exactly what it intends to do with the database and then requiring new state rules codifying those intentions. […]

Underscoring his frustration, Schultz suggested he, too, might go to court if the feds don’t hurry it up.

“They will be held accountable,” he said. “I’m not going to just back down. If they don’t give me access to the program, we will file a lawsuit.”

The secretary of state is barking up the wrong tree here. Even if he had the database in hand already, he wouldn’t be able to move forward with his new voter list rules for this election, and possibly not for any future election. First he needs to persuade the district court (and/or higher courts on appeal) that his rules would not have “a chilling effect on qualified voters right to vote.”

The Des Moines Register obtained the draft letters the Secretary of State’s office would send to suspected non-citizens who are registered voters. You can read the first letter here and the proposed follow-up letter here. I think a reasonable person would consider the tone of those letters intimidating, particularly if you imagine reading them in a language that’s not native to you. Naturalized citizens who have nothing to fear from the warning about voter registration fraud being a Class D felony would still face the hassle of responding to these letters with the appropriate documentation.

I saw Attorney General Tom Miller at the Harkin Steak Fry on Sunday and asked whether his office would automatically represent the Secretary of State’s office in any possible litigation against the federal government. He called my question “premature” and asked me to seek comment from his office. Geoff Greenwood, communications director for the attorney general, e-mailed this answer yesterday: “The attorney general generally represents state officers (in their official capacity) in legal proceedings, though there can be exceptions.”

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  • if I were to receive one of Schultz's

    dumb letters, I’d give it the attention it deserves & happily go to vote. Any attempts to prevent me from voting would lead to litigation.

    The tone of the letter is tenuous — “we are still investigating …” Well, arrive at a conclusion, then send your letter if you’re so convinced that I’m misrepresenting my status, SOS Schultz. In the meantime, I’m not responsible for the state-fed snarl the SOS has managed to get himself into.

    I’m glad Greenwood has clarified that there can be exceptions to Miller’s office representing state officials. I also think preening at a press conference with Schultz represents a position of support.

    As I mentioned at TIR, Iowa is now switching over to REAL ID compliance on Iowa DLs. Anyone who presented a hospital-issued birth certificate in the “old days” will have to come forward by 2017 (pre-1964 births) with a govt-issued version. Imagine receiving a letter from the SOS weeks before the election claiming that it had “received information” from DOT that identity is in question due to REAL-ID non-compliance. Iowans wouldn’t stand for it.