Iowa secretary of state wrapped up in voter fraud lawsuit

Tedi Mathis

The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting the decision by Matt Schultz, Iowa secretary of state, to make two new administrative rules that would challenge voter eligibility.

The first rule set forth by Schultz would make it easier to file a voter fraud complaint in Iowa. As the law stands now, there is a lengthy process to make the complaint. According Schultz’s new administrative rule, a person only needs to submit a form online, which according to the union, requires no accountability for truth and implies nothing about a consequence for intentionally filing a false claim.

The second rule added grants the secretary of state, whomever it happens to be, power to review registered voters in Iowa. The secretary would take a list of people with noncitizen licenses from the Department of Transportation and compare it to a list of registered voters from the federal government. The point of this process, said Chad Olson, Schultz’s chief of staff, would be to find people who registered to vote with their noncitizen license, to try and weed out voter fraud through removing those noncitizen voters.

Schultz avoided the usual waiting period in which the public is informed of rules being changed by categorizing them as both regular and emergency rules, allowing them to be put into immediate effect. The American Civil Liberties Union blew the whistle on the rules, and the process in which Schultz enacted them, in late July.

Rita Bettis, legislative director and staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that under these rules, immigrants and new citizens would have an inadequate opportunity to prove their citizenship. Bettis said the 14 days granted in the letters sent to those believed to be noncitizens voting were not enough time to prove citizenship and vote.

Olson explained the reason behind the quick decision was to gain access to the federal government’s Systematic Alien Verification Entitlements database, which is used by the government to identify immigrants’ legal statuses. They were working to clear the election rules in time for their use in the upcoming election, which would not have been possible without quick access to the database.

In explaining Schultz’s move, Olson said the main intention of the administrative rules was to create a way to contact people believed to be noncitizens voting in Iowa. 

The American Civil Liberties Union came forth with a lawsuit Aug. 10, citing many problems with Schultz’s administrative rules. Their first point was the rules were in no way adequate as emergency rules, because not only does Schultz not have statutory power to create them, the rules themselves were far too vague.

On Sept. 12, Mary Pat Gunderson, 5th District judge, denied Schultz’s request to have the American Civil Liberties Union case thrown out. She said that due to the use of deceit and secrecy on his part and because it is a matter of voting rights, it is “an issue of utmost importance.” Then on Sept. 14, another judge ruled a temporary injunction on the administrative rules altogether, to halt their use during the trials.

The League of United Latin American Citizens joined the American Civil Liberties Union in their efforts in court. In response to the temporary injunction, Joe Enriquez Henry, state director of league in Iowa, said: “Our people can go to the polls and not fear that their vote will be taken away from them.”

Schultz’s administrative rules would have little to no effect on the voting rights of college students, whether Iowa citizens or out-of-state students. Bettis said that in the upcoming elections, these rules will not come into play, and the American Civil Liberties Union is working to keep them off the playing field for good.

In response to questions regarding the voting of students, Bettis said: “Take heart and vote. If you are a qualified and eligible voter in Iowa, you should vote free of fear.”

Although Olson admits the issue is not as prevalent in Iowa as it is nationwide, he said other states have enacted the same rules.

Olson said one issue of great importance in our country is “the decrease in voter participation,” and part of that comes from people’s mistrust of the voting system due to voter fraud. 

Outside Iowa, many states across the country are scrutinizing voter rights and identification records to curb voter fraud.

In Florida, the early voting period was cut back from 14 to eight days, and changes were made to the requirements for in-state address changes. Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his staff have stated their intent as diminishing voter fraud and deny any attacks on specific minority groups.

And in Pennsylvania, a new voter identification law is creating a lot of controversy. The new law restricts the types of photo ID acceptable at voting polls and requires you to present it every time you go to the poll. Examples of these restrictions include disallowing the use of student IDs without expiration dates.