Iowa senator requests audit of how Schultz uses HAVA funds

State Senator Tom Courtney has requested state and federal audits of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s decision to use federal Help America Vote Act funds to pay for a full-time criminal investigator focusing on suspected voter fraud.

Courtney is the Democrat who chairs the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee. He’s running for re-election in the new Iowa Senate district 44, which includes parts of southeast Iowa with large Latino populations. For instance, West Liberty in Muscatine County is more than 50 percent Latino according to the 2010 census.

During a meeting of the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee last month, Courtney sharply criticized Schultz’s new policies on removing ineligible voters from voter rolls. Courtney told Schultz that Latino residents in his district are “scared to death of this,” because “They think you’re trying to stop them from voting.”

Polk County District Court Judge Mary Pat Gunderson has blocked the use of those rules for this year’s general election. Although she has not yet decided on whether they can be implemented later, her decision on granting a temporary injunction wasn’t sympathetic to most of the justifications the Iowa Attorney General’s office advanced on Schultz’s behalf.

Meanwhile, Courtney is going through administrative channels to challenge Schultz’s use of HAVA funding. Rod Boshart reported yesterday,

In separate letters to State Auditor David Vaudt and the federal Office of Inspector General, Courtney contends federal law requires HAVA funds to be used “for educating voters concerning voting procedures, voting rights and voting technology.” However, he said in his letters, Iowa’s Republican secretary of state – who also is the state election commissioner – is using HAVA funds “on the unallowable expense of hiring a law enforcement officer to conduct criminal investigations on Iowans.”

Courtney said there is no evidence that Schultz has requested to amend Iowa’s plan to use the HAVA funds to pay the salary and costs of an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent. He also noted that Schultz has not convened a meeting of the state’s HAVA Advisory Committee since he took office in January 2011.

Courtney also discussed his concerns with Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson yesterday.

Courtney says there is a state advisory committee that is supposed to decide how the HAVA money is used.”I don’t think they’ve ever met under this governor, I don’t think that group has ever met to decide how the HAVA money should be used. And so I believe that he should not be using this money for that, and I have asked him to cease using it immediately for that purpose,” Courtney says.

The DCI arrested three people in Pottawattamie County and charged them with voting illegally as they are not U.S. citizens after following up on information from Schultz’s office. Courtney’s news release announcing his action asks Schultz to “end all aspects of his voter purge campaign.”

He told Radio Iowa the timing of Schultz’s action is a concern. “I think that looking for people who shouldn’t be voting is fine, I mean I think that is fine. I think he should have started it two years ago. That’s one of my issues with this. I don’t believe that there’s time to get it sorted out,” Courtney explained.

He says he is also concerned that Scott County requested information on possible illegal voters from Schultz and the Secretary of State would not give them that information. “I just think that his thing that he is doing right now is wrongheaded and I think that there are better ways to do this. And I definitely don’t think he should be using federal money that is intended for another purpose, for that purpose,” Courtney says.

The three people recently arrested and charged with election misconduct in Pottawattamie County include two Canadian citizens and an immigrant from Mexico.

The Secretary of State’s office released this statement from Schultz:

“I am deeply disappointed with Senator Tom Courtney’s political grandstanding today in calling for federal and state audits of the Secretary of State’s office simply because he disagrees with efforts to remove non-citizens from Iowa’s voter rolls. Senator Courtney is attempting to do everything within his power to prevent DCI from conducting their investigations, which have already resulted in election misconduct charges against non-citizens who have been voting in Iowa.” “The proper and fair administration of elections in the State of Iowa is my responsibility as the chief elections official. Iowans deserve clean and honest elections. Shame on Tom Courtney for trying to block criminal investigations into voter fraud and election misconduct,” Schultz concluded. The Secretary of State’s office has stated that the investigation expenditures are an appropriate use of HAVA funds, under Title 1, as they are being used to improve the administration of federal elections.”

Later Schultz commented in an interview with Radio Iowa:

Schultz says he is confident any audit of the use of the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA funds, will confirm he is right. “At this point I trust my election staff that’s made up of election law lawyers. And I can tell you, Senator Courtney only focused on one part of the law and did not bring the entire law into the case here. My staff tells me we have the ability to do it, and I am trusting my staff,” Schultz says.

The DCI charged three people with voter fraud in Pottawattamie County in September based on information from the Secretary of State’s office. Schultz says he could use more help in finding voter fraud.

“Senator Courtney instead of trying to be critical should be helpful and say ‘well we should get the Secretary of State more resources if he needs it to make sure we have fair and honest elections’,” Schultz says. “I mean investigations are going on around the state not just on non-citizens, but on double voting, on felons voting, on absentee voter fraud. Quite frankly we could use 10 agents now. So maybe Senator Courtney should think about that the next time he tries to be critical.”

Courtney said he also has a concern because Scott County has requested information from Schultz and the Secretary of State has refused to give it to them. Schultz says he is just following the law. “We cannot turn that information over right now. Because we don’t have access to the federal saved database, we don’t have accurate information to give to the county auditor and we need to make sure we have uniform procedures in place,” Schultz explains.

“Now the DCI is working with their county attorney and that will continue to go on. And that’s is a law enforcement prerogative between the DCI and the county attorney.”

Schultz was referring to the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database. A few weeks ago he slammed foot-dragging by federal officials who have not yet granted his office access to the database.

With law enforcement operating on tight budgets, I’m amazed Schultz would suggest putting ten agents on the case to root out voter fraud. I’m sure the DCI branches have lots of other crimes to investigate.

Many county auditors were skeptical upon learning in August that Schultz had hired a full-time DCI agent.

County auditors, who run local elections, told the AP they were surprised when they were introduced to Special Agent Daniel Dawson and informed of his new role during a training meeting Wednesday in Cedar Rapids. Auditors said they also were taken aback when Dawson and another state official told them that he was looking into between 2,000 and 3,000 voters already.

“I don’t know ever of a DCI investigation into county auditors’ business. I’ve been here since 2008, but I don’t think it’s probably ever happened before,” said Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, who was told Dawson is looking into 180 voters in her county. […]

Jones County auditor Janine Sulzner, a Republican based in Anamosa, said it was “extremely unfortunate” that auditors had not been informed earlier of Dawson’s hiring. She called the number of voters under investigation “a little suspicious” and said auditors should be involved since they know many of their residents.

Ken Kline, another Republican who serves as Cerro Gordo County auditor in Mason City, said he had many questions about the hiring and what Dawson will investigate. He said he believed many of the cases under review would turn out to be simple data errors.

“I wish we had better communication as to what databases were compared, what were the procedures, what were the parameters, the controls,” he said. “We do a lot of that in this office and you have to be very careful, especially with something of this volatile of a nature.”

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