Voter fraud poster children arrested in Council Bluffs

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation officials announced yesterday that three residents of Council Bluffs have been arrested and charged with election misconduct, a class D felony.  

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz has made voter fraud a top priority since taking office in early 2011. He used to be a city council member in Council Bluffs, where Division of Criminal Investigation agents started investigating alleged non-citizens who cast ballots in Iowa elections.

In criminal complaints, a DCI investigator identifies the Harte-Maxwells as Canadian citizens and Ayon-Fernandez as a citizen of Mexico.

The complaints allege that Albert Harte-Maxwell voted in both the 2010 general election and a 2011 local election, while Linda Harte Maxwell voted in a 2011 local election. Records show [Maria] Ayon-Fernandez voted in the 2010 general election as well. […]

In the complaints, the investigator recounts interviews with both Albert and Linda Harte-Maxwell, in which they said they are Canadian citizens but legal permanent residents of the United States, and believed they were allowed to vote in all elections except for the presidential election.

Ayon-Fernandez, meanwhile, said in an interview with the investigator that she believes she is a U.S. citizen, although she was unable to provide documentation.

Radio Iowa spoke with DCI assistant director Charis Paulson.

“This is information that we had gotten from the Secretary of State’s office regarding a possible vote that had been cast by non-U-S citizens in that county,” Paulson says. The information led to the arrest of 52-year-old Albert Harte-Maxwell, 49-year-old Linda Harte-Maxwell and 40-year-old Maria Ayon-Fernandez.

“Our agents conducted our normal due-dilligence in a criminal investigation. We made contact with U.S. Immigration and Customs to determine their immigration status and then based upon that information, we conducted our investigation and found out that they did vote while they were non-U.S. citizens,” Paulson says. […]

Paulson says the agency is looking into more possible voter fraud. “We still have ongoing investigations in reference to election misconduct in other counties in Iowa,” Paulson says.

These arrests are a shot in the arm for Secretary of State Schultz, who is trying to gain access to a federal database in order to identify potential non-citizens who have voted in Iowa. He is also trying to enact rules for instructing some registered voters to prove that they are U.S. citizens. Schultz released this comment yesterday:

“As Secretary of State one of my primary duties is to ensure that we have fair and honest elections. Every person who cheats in the voting booth deprives a hard-working, eligible citizen of their voice in our government. That is why I have been fighting for election integrity and will continue to do so. I am grateful for the hard work and dedication D.C.I. has shown so far in their investigation of election crimes in our state.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa attorney and legislative director Rita Bettis correctly noted when speaking to the Des Moines Register, “these are charges, and no fraud has been proven.”

In Canada and many European countries, legal residents who are not citizens are allowed to vote in local elections, but not in federal or national elections. The Harte-Maxwells may have reasonably believed that as legal permanent residents, they were allowed to vote in Iowa in 2010 and 2011. Ayon-Fernandez may also have believed she was allowed to vote. I don’t know the facts of these cases, but I would not assume the suspects are guilty.

Even if these three people are shown to have intended to commit fraud, it’s worth noting that photo ID requirements for election-day voters (another high priority for Schultz) would not have prevented them from casting ballots in 2010 or 2011.

A few questions come to mind.

1. What criminal cases are not being pursued in DCI branch offices where agents are investigating possible non-citizen voters?

2. Iowa has a lot of snowbirds. Are DCI agents in Pottawattamie County and elsewhere investigating wealthy people who have winter homes in other states, to make sure they have never cast absentee ballots in Iowa while voting on election day in, say, Florida or Arizona?

3. If Iowa snowbirds are not being investigated for possible election fraud, on what grounds are they above suspicion? Anecdotally, I have heard of such double voting, although I’ve never heard Schultz express any concern about that kind of voter fraud.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: A September 23 Associated Press story following up on these arrests notes,

A state push to bring felony charges against noncitizens who voted in recent Iowa elections could run into two key roadblocks: local prosecutors who do not want to pursue the cases and jurors who may find no criminal intent. […]

Election misconduct is a class D felony punishable with up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine. Convictions could trigger consequences for residents’ immigration status, including their possible removal if the offense is considered an aggravated felony, defense lawyers said.

Juries may be reluctant to convict suspects if they believe they simply made a mistake and thought they were eligible to vote, according to defense lawyers, who note the law requires the actions to be “willful.” […]

Records released from Schultz’s office to The Associated Press, for instance, show that a noncitizen in Iowa Falls voted last year but was not prosecuted, and Schultz’s own lawyer wrote that the man did not commit any “intentional wrongdoing that could be classified to the level of ‘fraudulent’.” Mistaken local elections officials allowed him to vote after he provided his alien registration number on his green card.

“I did not get the impression that there was any intent to vote in a fraudulent manner,” an Iowa Falls police captain wrote in February.

In Linn County, home to Cedar Rapids, County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden has declined to bring charges against a few persons who mistakenly voted twice during recent elections. The county auditor sought prosecution, but Vander Sanden replied in emails that those voters had “no criminal intent” to cast absentee ballots and vote a second time at the polls. He said they cherished their voting rights and had “a good faith belief” that their absentee ballots hadn’t been received.

“I am not going to charge someone with a felony because they made an innocent mistake,” he wrote in July. “It is not so much a matter of cost as it is fairness and the proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

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  • I have already written about this extensively here

    Schultz has gone cherry-picking where the chance of finding some screw-ups is highest: non-federal elections. This is similar to the Wendy Rosen situation in MD. She thought she could vote on local issues in FL since she also owns property there.

    I repeat: it sickens me to hear Democrats use “three time loser” language like “ZERO TOLERANCE” about this. Similarly, Matt Schultz is a complete loser as a human being to tout CLASS D FELONIES while putting heads on sticks. The sad fact is that the Harte-Maxwells have probably lost their opportunity of citizenship, if this is what they desired — and all because they wanted to be involved in local and state politics.

    Where I live, a lot of municipalities allow ALL residents (no docs required) to vote on local issues/elections because they are stakeholders as well. This is the foundation for healthy communities. Some areas with “duals” separate local elections on a separate ballot.

    If Matt Schultz were serious about “voter fraud,” he’d institute a randomized check on voters on a range of issues, but instead he targets those born outside of the US in local elections. He’s a coward. He is also free to set up a point-of-service citizenship check, but instead, he just wants political scalps because he’s bitter about having his hands tied for the 2012 election.

    He’ll come up with a handful more of these FELONS, and it won’t amount to anything more than statistical noise. The DMR will breathlessly report the “voter fraud,” Tom Miller will take his “tough on crime — zero tolerance” stance while Dem voter drives continue in the background in areas with a lot of immigrants. Basically, a bunch of self-righteous assholes.

  • The Correct Response

    I believe that a proper investigation and criminal charges are the appropriate response to a Class D Felony.  The appropriate response is not, on the other hand, using the Secretary of State’s office to play investigator, judge, and jury by sending out threatening letters to people who happen to end up in a database from the federal government.  Additionally, the appropriate response is also not disenfranchising voters by making it more difficult to vote.

  • I am done

    w/ helping Democrats w/ voter registration drives. I speak several languages, so I’ve been around the block when it comes to interfacing with voters who are naturalized or not sure about status.

    I think about how these registration drives are usually volunteer — often involving two people who don’t speak the same native language. There will be more “busts” — nothing beyond statistical noise, but likely the product of misunderstandings & poor communication.

    I’ll give Matt Schultz credit for taking ownership of his investigation. He’s a weasel for targeting foreign-born and too chicken to go after Real Iowans, but at least he’s up front about what he’s doing. I could have a conversation with him.

    But where’s Rep Kajtazovic? She should know better than anyone else that in the enthusiasm for her candidacy, perhaps one of her volunteers didn’t clarify the importance of US citizenship to the voting process. How about that Bruce Braley? That was an awfully close race, wasn’t it Bruce — but you go to Washington for the perks, power and the salary while the saps who voted get a Class D felony. You were undoubtedly happy to hear about robust registration drives in areas with lots of Bosnians. Hopefully they all have their citizenship by now,l because clearly Dems aren’t going to stand tall on this.

    When I see Tom Miller at a press conference with Schultz, I realize I’ve been used by Democrats. I’m just what they insert in between themselves and the felons. Please note, people — it’s Ben Stone at the ACLU who is doing the heavy lifting.

    If people born outside of the US are going to get slapped with felony charges, I say do away with Motor Voter. If Dems are going to be all Law and Order about this, then Motor Voter & sending out volunteers amounts to entrapment.

    • also

      I would like the DCI investigator to get information on who prompted the felon to vote in the first place. If it was a campaign, we need more arrests for “aiding and abetting a felon,” clearly.  

    • Ooohh man,

      You make one heck of a serious point and we do need to look in the mirror over this issue.

      Either stop (or get really rigid in the drives) the registration drives, or get loud and organized in fighting the rethugs over the felony trolling.