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Emergency-voting laws in Iowa should be cast aside

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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On Tuesday evening, an Iowa district judge allowed a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and a Latino-advocacy group against Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz to move forward, as reported by the Des Moines Register.

The lawsuit attempts to block the implementation of two emergency-voting regulations enacted unilaterally by Schultz in July in part because the proposed regulations could lead to the wrongful denial of voting rights for Iowa citizens.

While his implementation of these emergency measures is legal, Schultz has not adequately addressed the question raised by the ACLU of whether qualified voters run the risk of being wrongfully removed from the Iowa voter rolls under his laws.

One proposed regulation would require that Iowa voter rolls be periodically checked against Iowa Department of Transportation files and a federal immigration database to identify foreign nationals wrongfully registered to vote, who could then be purged from the rolls and, in some cases, criminally charged.

Schultz announced that in March that he suspected 3,582 foreign nationals of being illegally registered to vote in Iowa, 1,208 of whom his staff later allegedly determined to have voted in the 2010 general election.

In order to confirm the citizenship status of the individuals in question, Schultz gained access to the database in July and introduced the new emergency-voting rules shortly thereafter.
In their formal defense as seen in the court record, Schultz’s legal team dismissed the ACLU’s charges as “purely speculative.”

This assertion ignores both recent historical precedent and numerous signs of the laws’ potential for abuse.

An audit of voter records undertaken by Gov. Rick Scott in Florida this year, in which motor-vehicle databases were used to identify voters suspected of being noncitizens, led to a county-by-county check of citizenship that wrongfully called into question the voting eligibility of 514 American citizens, including a 91-year-old World War II veteran, in Miami-Dade County alone.

The Miami Herald reported that Florida’s motor-vehicle databases “had limited and often-outdated citizenship information that carried a high risk of making lawful voters look like noncitizens.”

Schultz expects access to federal records will mitigate the risk of wrongful accusations, but using the SAVE database to double check the citizenship status of fraud suspects in Iowa would not necessarily prevent problems similar to those seen in Florida.

Raymond Rayner, a representative of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the organization that maintains the SAVE database, wrote in an email to the Secretary of State’s Office that “the use of the SAVE program for verifying the citizenship status of voters has significant limitations.”

The SAVE database cannot verify voters who are citizens by birth, and the program only has detailed records on naturalized and derived U.S. citizens.

At this point, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that the problem of voter fraud in Iowa merits a step as drastic as emergency-voting rules, given the profoundly negative effect the laws could have on voters. These laws do not adequately protect citizens from having their citizenship erroneously called into question.

Responsible efforts should be made to identify and put a stop to voter fraud where it occurs, but given the proximity to the election and the high potential for collateral damage, these emergency-voting regulations should be cast aside.


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