Hearing Set on Proposed New Voter Purge Rule
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz is moving forward to establish procedures for removing voters from registration rolls if they can't prove citizenship, with a public hearing scheduled for Thursday expected to draw critics who want to stop the change.
"Schultz's proposed voter-suppression rules will unfairly target Latino immigrants, intimidate voters from exercising their rights, and could result in voters being purged from the rolls without cause," said Ana Belen Mancebo, a member of the government watchdog group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Mancebo, of Des Moines, said in a statement released Tuesday that the group plans to ask Schultz at the hearing to abandon the rule.
An American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa attorney also plans to speak at the hearing in opposition to the rule, which allows Schultz's office to mail a letter to anyone on voter rolls who shows up as a noncitizen in other databases. It gives those targeted for removal from voter registration rolls 30 days to file a challenge. A second notice would be sent with another 30-day response period if there is no answer to the first. Those receiving letters requesting information on their citizenship would also be allowed to ask for as much time as needed to produce documents to prove citizenship, said Chad Olsen, spokesman for Schultz.
The ACLU has filed a written comment calling for Schultz to stop the rule-making process. Several other groups have signed on to the statement including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters, and the American Friends Service Committee.
The ACLU plans to present several arguments against the rule, including its contention that an act of the Legislature is required and Schultz cannot enact the rule alone.
"The secretary may put before the Iowa General Assembly a departmental study bill proposing the action contemplated by this rule, but may not avoid the legislative process altogether," ACLU Executive Director Ben Stone says in the written comments.
Schultz attempted to pass two new rules before the November election, but a Polk County District Court judge halted them after the ACLU filed a lawsuit in August. One rule would have made it easier to report alleged voter fraud, but Schultz has since dropped it.
The second rule is the one that is the subject of the hearing, although it has been changed to lengthen the period of time the challenged voter has to respond, Olsen said.
The rule challenges the right to vote of individuals who are listed on the state Department of Transportation database as noncitizens. Schultz also is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to access its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program, which is used to verify immigration status. Schultz hopes to also use that program to confirm whether registered voters are legal U.S. citizens.
Judge Mary Pat Gunderson halted the emergency rules and in September issued a temporary injunction preventing Schultz from enacting them. She said Schultz should have gone through the normal rule-making process that allowed for public input. She also said he didn't have sufficient reason to justify rushing the rules through weeks before the general election.
Gunderson is considering a motion by Schultz to dismiss the lawsuit. She also could rule that Schultz doesn't have the legal authority to enact such a rule without legislative action.
Schultz now is working through the normal rule-making procedure, which includes the public hearing. After the hearing, the rule will be reviewed by the Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee, likely later this month. The rule will move forward unless two-thirds of the committee objects or objections are filed by Attorney General Tom Miller or Gov. Terry Branstad.
The earliest the rule could become effective is March 13.
Schultz has made fighting voter fraud a priority since taking office in 2011. He also has pushed for a law that would require voters to show photo identification to vote.
He is paying an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent to look into voter fraud cases and file charges against those suspected of voting without legal citizenship.