Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz just can't quit the fantasy that he has saved Iowans from a major "voter fraud" problem. A new report from the Secretary of State's Office may serve as a welcome distraction from his record of keeping some political appointees on the payroll, but it distorts the reality of election irregularities and ignores more important factors that keep some eligible voters from having their ballots count in Iowa elections.
Before launching his Congressional campaign in Iowa's third district, Schultz was under pressure to demonstrate the value of having a full-time criminal investigator spend two years looking for voter fraud. Democratic elected officials and even Iowa's deputy state auditor questioned Schultz's use of federal funds for that purpose. The Secretary of State's Office published its full "DCI Voter Fraud Investigations Report" on May 8 (full text in this pdf file).
DCI Voter Fraud Investigation Finds 117 Illegal Votes Cast, 17 Cases Still Being Investigated
Des Moines - Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz released a report today regarding the findings of investigations into voter fraud by the Iowa Department of Public Safety's Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).
"I asked DCI to review these cases to make sure no votes by eligible Iowans were being cancelled out by illegal voters. Unfortunately, DCI did find that at least 117 illegal votes have been cast and another 17 cases are still being investigated," Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said. "While the majority of Iowans are honest and trustworthy, there are some people not following the law and rather than turn a blind eye to this issue, we need to confront it. Every vote is precious and Iowans expect nothing less than fair and honest elections."
So far, DCI has found that 117 illegal votes have been cast and 17 cases are still currently being investigated out of 238 investigations done by DCI. County attorneys have brought charges against 27 of the individuals. Six individuals were found guilty, one individual was found not guilty, four cases were dismissed, one individual received deferred prosecution and 15 cases are still in the court system.
In addition to those 238 investigations, referrals have been or will be made in another 100 cases of possible double voting, 74 cases in which non-citizens registered to vote but did not cast a ballot, and 682 possible election day registration irregularities.
Technically, it's false for Schultz to claim his investigator found "117 illegal votes cast." He's not a judge or a jury. So far, the only Iowan put on trial for voting illegally was acquitted for lack of evidence that she had committed a crime. Six more people pled guilty to avoid the risk of a trial, but I suspect that they might also have been acquitted for similar reasons: lack of proof that they intended to commit any fraud by registering to vote or voting. Some non-citizens or felons who wrongly registered to vote did so by accident when they were handed a registration form while getting a valid driver's license.
The 100 cases of possible double-voting, described on page 10 of the full report, warrant further examination. With so many Iowans spending part of the year in other states (especially warmer climates), I would not be surprised to learn that a small number cheat by voting by absentee ballot in Iowa and on election day near their second homes. Such crimes should be prosecuted, where relevant. But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach himself has said "that most double registrations are unintentional and result from a person moving from one state to another and re-registering to vote."
The DCI report mentions "682 possible election day registration irregularities," which sounds pretty bad. (It doesn't mention that Schultz's pet project of photo ID wouldn't prevent any of those problems, as same-day registrants already have to show ID under Iowa law.) John Deeth explains many simple human errors that might lead to a voter card addressed to an election-day registrant getting returned as undeliverable. That's not the same as someone who is ineligible to vote casting a fraudulent ballot.
Even if the DCI investigator had uncovered rock-solid evidence of 250 voter fraud crimes, that would represent less than one-tenth of 1 percent of more than 2.5 million ballots Iowans cast just in the last two general elections.
Schultz likes to talk about Iowans having their votes "cancelled out by illegal voters," but he doesn't mention problems that lead to many more valid votes being tossed in this state. For instance, late-arriving absentee ballots with no postmark disenfranchised scores of Iowans in Polk County school board elections just last year. With more than 40 percent of Iowans casting early ballots in the 2012 general election, it's likely that hundreds of otherwise valid votes never were counted because people mailed their absentee ballots shortly before election day.
No one will ever be able to count how many Iowans never attempted to register or vote because of confusion over whether their rights had been restored after a felony conviction.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that optical scanner machines, used in most Iowa elections, fail to read approximately one-half of 1 percent of valid ballots. Technology errors probably invalidate hundreds of Iowans' votes in any given general election.
Brad Anderson, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, released the following statement on May 8:
"Matt Schultz has spent three years and a quarter of a million dollars trying to prove Iowans are cheaters, and as a result found isolated cases in the midst of millions of votes that have been cast since he took office. Throughout this investigation, Secretary Schultz has turned a blind eye to mismanagement in his own office, including ghost employees who spent months on his payroll without doing any real work. Our time and tax dollars would be better spent modernizing Secretary of State's office and working to increase participation in our elections. The results of this investigation show the real fraud in Iowa is being committed by Matt Schultz, not Iowa voters."
Jake Porter, the Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State, posted this comment:
A lot of money that could have been spent on updating our technology to prevent clerical errors and actual fraud from occurring in the first place.
When we look at the results of the investigation we find that bad databases kept several people from voting, felons who didn't realize Schultz and Branstad changed the law on them when they registered to vote, a few cases of fraud, and that photo ID would not have prevented the people who registered to vote from voting.
This is why we need better systems and databases in place to prevent clerical errors and fraud rather than be reactive and waste a lot of money finding a few cases of actual fraud after the fact sometimes years later. I want to prevent errors before they get to that point.