April 24, 2014

Senator says Schultz lacks authority to implement voter registration rules

The incoming president of the Iowa Senate suggests Iowa’s top election official does not have the authority to implement rules that set up a system for removing non-citizens from voter registration rolls.

Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, questions the effort from Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

“Regardless of our opinion on the proposed rules, whether we’re for it or against it…I believe that this rule has exceeded the authority of the secretary of state’s office,” Jochum says. “I believe these are issues that are for the legislative branch of government.”

According to Jochum, the legislature already has outlined the process for removing dead people from the voter rolls as well as removing people who’re registered to vote in another state. She says that means it’s up to the legislature to pass a plan for removing non-citizens, too.

“I would encourage the secretary of state to withdraw his rule and submit to the legislature a law that we can vett, in full committee hearings, in how to deal with the concerns the secretary of state is having,” Jochum says.

Secretary of State Schultz says under the current timeline, his proposed rules go into effect March 13.

“If Senator Jochum wants to sponsor a bill doing the same thing, I’m supportive of it, but we need to have something in place in the meantime,” Schultz says.

Schultz, who is an attorney, says the two Democrats who were secretary of state before him who implemented voter registration rules, so there’s “plenty of precedent” for his effort.

“To me, this is just politics, but we’ll let the politics play out,” Schultz says. “I’m trying to do my job, which is to make sure we have integrity in elections and protect voters’ rights which is the whole point to this rule. The rule is to actually protect the people that they say are being discriminated against. Otherwise, under the law, we’d just forward the stuff to the county auditors and say, ‘Have at it.’ And we’re not doing that.”

Schultz plans to send a letter to people suspected of being non-citizens who’ve registered to vote. If there’s no reply, a second letter will be sent — and recipients can ask for more time to come up with documents that prove their citizens. The legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee met today and had a sort of public hearing on the rules. Twenty-one-year-old Ana Belen Mancebo of Des Moines was first to speak. 

“Voter fraud is a non-existent problem. It is a problem that Matt Schultz invented and now he wants to make it our problem. It is a GOP scheme,” Mancebo said. “Not only is he trying to suppress eligible voters away from exercising their rights, he is also trying to intimidate them.”

Brenda Brink of Huxley was among those who objected to spending money on voter fraud investigations.

“This is an imaginary problem,” Brink said. “I want my taxpayer dollars to go for real problems.”

Representative Dawn Pettengill, a Republican from Mount Auburn, responded.

“It’s not imaginary. There have been documented cases that people who were not here as legal citizens voted,” Pettengill said. “We want to make sure that our vote counts and I’m sure a lot of people who were immigrants want to make sure their vote counts and it’s not a Banana Republic.”

Eight Iowans have been charged with voter fraud over the past few months. Two were felons who had not applied to have their voting rights restored when they were paroled. The other six are accused of registering to vote in Iowa while being citizens of another country.