Groups Ask Judge to Halt Voter Fraud Investigation

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Groups Ask Judge to Halt Voter Fraud Investigation

Des Moines Register, September 6, 2012
Written by Jens Manuel Krogstad

A judge heard arguments Thursday over whether Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz exceeded his authority in a search for thousands of possible ineligible voters before November’s election.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and a Latino advocacy group, League of United Latin American Citizens, argued for an injunction to halt an effort to check identities against a federal immigration database to determine citizenship.

The move is unnecessary and improper because no evidence of voter fraud exists and the rule creates fear and confusion for eligible voters, an attorney for the advocacy groups said. State attorneys, however, said the rule would expand due process because it creates an appeals process and the federal database reduces the risk of mistakes.

Schultz’s plans to investigate 3,582 possible non-U.S. citizens registered to vote in Iowa has thrust the state into a contentious national debate. Critics say a state-by-state voter suppression effort by Republicans disproportionately affects poor and minority voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.

The partisan divide on the issue in Iowa, however, is blurred. Democratic Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller last month attended a joint news conference with Schultz, a Republican, during which Miller defended the secretary of state’s investigation as reasonable.

Joseph Glazebrook, a Des Moines attorney, on Thursday argued Schultz sidestepped normal procedures that include vetting new rules through a commission and a public comment period because he waited too long, without good reason, to start the process.

Jeffrey Thompson, a deputy state attorney general, countered that Schultz only used his emergency powers to enact the rule because the the federal government has been slow to approve access to the immigration database.

District Judge Mary Pat Gunderson said she would rule soon on the injunction request, but did not give an exact date on when she would make a decision.

The names of 3,582 registered voters who would be checked against the immigration database were obtained by checking an Iowa Department of Transportation database of licensed drivers.

Attorneys for both sides agreed the list of possible ineligible voters includes people who gained citizenship after obtaining a driver’s license. The advocacy groups presented written testimony from three people in that situation. At least one of them said Schultz’s search created unnecessary fear and confusion for citizens, Glazebrook said.

“This rule potentially disenfranchises valid voters, and tends to chill others who might want to vote,” he said.

Thompson, however, said the groups have misinterpreted the rule. By eliminating access to the federal database, the likelihood increases that the state will mistakenly challenge citizens’ right to vote. He also noted that the emergency rule would only be in effect for this election cycle. After November’s election, Schultz’s office will solicit public comment and adjust the rules if needed, he said.

“They’re reading this thing absolutely backwards,” Thompson said. “They run the risk of, if they get what they’re asking for, of causing harm to the people they’re trying to protect.”

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