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Iowa Secretary of State seeks controversial voting rule change

BY JONATHAN SOLIS | MARCH 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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A new rule that passed through an Iowa legislators’ executive committee last week will identify registered voters who may potentially be ineligible to vote.

Initially proposed in August 2012by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, the rule aims to reduce voter fraud by establishing ways to remove voters of “questionable citizenship.” Opponents of the rule say that Schultz uses information inappropriately.

The controversial rule met resistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been involved in action against Schultz since July 2012 for other reasons.

“Our legislative director is busy at the Capitol fighting what we feel are voter suppression rules that the secretary of State is trying to implement,” said Veronica Fowler, the communications director of the Iowa ACLU.

Schultz was not available for comment Monday evening.

The rule in question would allow workers at the Secretary of State’s Office to compare voting records against the Department of Transportation and other databases, Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said.

Weipert said if officials find somebody who they don’t believe is a citizen, they will contact that person directly to verify her or his citizenship. If the voter doesn’t respond in time, the secretary of State will send a notice to the county auditor, who is then responsible for stopping that individual from voting, if he or she should try.

The bipartisan committee was one vote shy of blocking the rule. Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, who sits on the committee and voted against the rule, called the move a “political switcheroo.”

“Their goal is to frustrate people so certain populations don’t show up or are afraid to vote,” he said. “They’re definitely trying to screen out Latino, African American, and to some extent the elderly vote.”

One political expert said these accusations have no grounds.

“Why somebody would be ‘afraid’ if they’re eligible to vote is never really explained,” said Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the UI.

It’s a question that resonates with Republicans, who contend the rule would help crack down on cases of voter fraud, the likes of which has occurred as recently as last week; an unidentified individual voted last week in Linn County only for the real voter to show up later and find her vote had been cast by an imposter.

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, said he commended the secretary of State for going through the process in a constitutional way.

“As a member of the committee, it’s my job to make sure that rules do not go outside of the law or the intent of the law,” Chelgren said. “And the intent of the law is that noncitizens can’t vote in the state. This rule in no way allows the secretary of state to purge votes from the list, it only informs them.”

Despite these recent concerns, Fowler said she’s certain that voter fraud in Iowa and nationwide are “solutions in search of a problem.”

“The number of fraud cases in Iowa are less than 1 percent of the vote cast,” she said. The tradeoff is that you’ll intimidate new citizen voters.”

The particular database that the secretary of State would use is called the SAVE system. It was originally intended to help determine citizen’s eligibility for certain government benefits.

The use of the SAVE database is considered inappropriate by some, however.

“I think the secretary of State has overstepped his authority and crossed the line by using the SAVE system,” Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said. “It wasn’t designed to determine voter registration.”

Jochum said Schultz has gone beyond his executive authority, calling this is a legislative issue.

But across the aisle, the story is very different.

“This actually encourages them to vote long term,” Chelgren said. “I think it’s more intimidating to go to a voting place, and suddenly be stopped by somebody who tells you you’re not allowed to vote. That would be a lot more of a negative for the voter than a simple letter in the mail clarifying the rules for them.”


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