DES MOINES, Iowa – Three people were charged with felony counts of voter fraud in Pottawattamie County Thursday as a result of an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation probe initiated last month in conjunction with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office.
Class D first-degree election misconduct charges were brought against Albert Harte-Maxwell, 52; Linda Harte-Maxwell, 49; and Maria Ayon-Fernandez, 40, all of Council Bluffs. All three individuals were booked into the Pottawattamie County Jail on Thursday and released on their own recognizance, according to a DCI statement. The investigation was conducted by the DCI and Pottawattamie County Attorney's Office.
According to criminal complaints filed in the case, Albert Harte-Maxwell, Linda Harte-Maxwell, and Maria Ayon-Fernandez are all non-U.S. citizens who registered to vote in Pottawattamie County. Albert Harte-Maxwell voted in the 2010 general election and 2011 city election; Linda Harte-Maxwell voted in the 2011 city election; and Maria Ayon-Fernandez voted in the 2010 general election, according to the complaint and affidavit. The Harte-Maxwells are citizens of Canada and Ayon-Fernandez is a citizen of Mexico, court records indicate.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who also serves as the state's commissioner of election, praised the work of investigators for uncovering the election crimes allegedly perpetrated by three foreign nationals who are accused of participating in Iowa elections even though they are not U.S. citizens.
"As secretary of state one of my primary duties is to ensure that we have fair and honest elections," Schultz said in a statement. "Every person who cheats in the voting booth deprives a hard-working, eligible citizen of their voice in our government. That is why I have been fighting for election integrity and will continue to do so. I am grateful for the hard work and dedication DCI has shown so far in their investigation of election crimes in our state."
Earlier this year, Schultz filed emergency rules to change Iowa's voting procedures after comparisons his office made of state voter registration and driver's license records determined that 3,582 foreign nationals had registered to vote in Iowa since 2008, and that about 1,200 voted in the 2010 general election and that more than 1,400 cast ballots since the 2010 election. What is unknown, he said, was how many of those people became U.S. citizens after they received an Iowa driver's license, permit or identification card from the state Department of Transportation.
He said he requested access to federal citizenship data in hopes that the information would help state officials determine whether non-Iowa citizens have voted illegally in past elections and enable his office to take steps to prevent anything improper in the future.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court seeking to stop the rules, and last week District Court Judge Mary Pat Gunderson ruled that Schultz could have followed normal rule-making procedures and that emergency rules were unnecessary before the November election. In so doing, the judge stayed the rules and issued a temporary injunction, which prevents Schultz from enacting them until the court can hear the full arguments regarding the challenges.
Schultz said "everything is on hold right now" in the wake of the judge's ruling. A spokesman said Schultz and the Iowa Attorney General's Office were exploring options but noted that "the realities of the situation is that given the time frame that we have right now ... it is very unlikely that anything will be resolved before the election."
The GOP secretary of state told a legislative panel earlier this month that he was not trying to give an advantage to any candidates in November but only doing his job by passing emergency voter rules to make sure that only U.S. citizens vote on Nov. 6 However, critics contended the emergency rules – which were implemented without public input – would intimidate Hispanic voters, and perhaps others, and scare them away from voting.
In granting the temporary injunction, Gunderson ruled that the civil rights groups have shown that they and the voters they represent will suffer irreparable harm if the rules weren't halted. She concluded the rules created confusion and mistrust in the voter registration process.