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Iowa’s proposed voting rules under fire

By DONNA SCHILL CLEVELAND, Ledger staff writer | Dec 03, 2012

Citizens will soon have a chance to weigh in on Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s amended voting rules, which would increase the state’s patrol of elections by taking extra measures to verify the citizenship status of registered voters.

Schultz’s office will be taking public comment from 2-4 p.m. Jan. 3 through the Iowa Communications Network. The nearest location will be the Ottumwa National Guard Armory in Ottumwa.

In July, Schultz attempted to pass two emergency rules to prevent noncitizens from voting. One would have allowed Schultz to challenge registered voters whose names appeared on state and federal databases as noncitizens. A second rule would have made it easier to report alleged voter fraud.

Schultz’s office issued amendments to the rules Wednesday on the heels of public criticism and a pending lawsuit from civil rights groups. Polk County District Court Judge Mary Pat Gunderson issued a temporary injunction of Schultz’s rules in September, saying his intent didn’t justify using the emergency process, which doesn’t allow for public feedback. Gunderson said Friday she is considering whether or not to dismiss the lawsuit.

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union and League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa who filed the lawsuit in August, said the rules were suppression tactics, which would especially hurt Iowa’s growing Latino population. The civil liberties union said the rules would allow the secretary of state to remove registered voters from Iowa’s list without knowledge of the database source used to challenge the voters’ citizenship.

The groups also took issue with the proposed complaint rule, which would allow people to make voter fraud allegations without swearing in, with criminal penalties for false reports.

In response, Schultz’s office has rescinded the complaint rule, saying the existing state voter fraud hotline and method of submitting complaints to local county auditors are sufficient. He clarified the databases his office would use under the second rule, identifying the source as the federal Department of Homeland Security database. He has extended the response time for requests of verification of citizenship status from 14 to 30 days.

Schultz has tried unsuccessfully to tighten voter ID laws since he was appointed as secretary of state in 2010. While opponents say such laws target low income and minority citizens, Jefferson County Auditor Scott Reneker said he believed the two laws in question would strengthen the integrity of elections.

“From what I could tell, the rules sounded reasonable,” said Reneker. “Making sure everyone on the list meets registered voter requirements is something Iowa’s chief election official ought to be doing.”

Reneker said he believed Schultz’s various efforts already were acting as a deterrent for noncitizens to attempt to vote.

“There have been cases of noncitizens registering and ultimately voting,” he said. “He [Schultz] has been successful in locating some of those situations.”

Reneker said one way in which noncitizens appear on Iowa voting lists is because of a movement of some cities toward allowing them to vote on municipal matters.

“This has caused some confusion,” he said. “We’ve had people come in who had it in their mind they were able to vote here.”

Reneker said Schultz is bringing “a fresh, stricter” approach to voting.

“He’s increasing public awareness and knowledge,” said Reneker, “there’s a sense now that somebody’s paying attention.”

In the weeks leading up to the public hearing, residents can send comments to Director of Elections Sarah Reisetter at the Office of the Secretary of State, First Floor, Lucas State Office Building, Des Moines 50319.

Some information in this article was provided by The Associated Press.

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