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."