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DES MOINES, Iowa – A state senator is questioning Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz's use of federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money to help pay for a probe of alleged voter fraud in Iowa.
Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, chairman of the Senate's Government Oversight Committee, said Tuesday he has formally requested state and federal audits of what he considers to be Schultz's "misuse of federal funding for his high-profile voter purge campaign."
In separate letters to State Auditor David Vaudt and the federal Office of Inspector General, Courtney contends federal law requires HAVA funds to be used "for educating voters concerning voting procedures, voting rights and voting technology." However, he said in his letters, Iowa's Republican secretary of state – who also is the state election commissioner – is using HAVA funds "on the unallowable expense of hiring a law enforcement officer to conduct criminal investigations on Iowans."
Courtney said there is no evidence that Schultz has requested through the Election Assistance Commission to amend Iowa's state plan to use the HAVA funds to pay the salary and operational costs of an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent. He also noted that Schultz has not convened a meeting of the state's HAVA Advisory Committee since he took office in January 2011.
Schultz issued a statement Tuesday accusing Courtney of trying to block criminal investigations into voter fraud and election misconduct.
"I am deeply disappointed with Sen. Tom Courtney's political grandstanding today in calling for federal and state audits of the Secretary of State's office simply because he disagrees with efforts to remove non-citizens from Iowa's voter rolls," Schultz said. "Sen. Courtney is attempting to do everything within his power to prevent DCI from conducting their investigations, which have already resulted in election misconduct charges against non-citizens who have been voting in Iowa."
The secretary of state said he is fulfilling his responsibility to insure Iowans of clean and honest elections. He also said his staff researched the issue and determined that the use of HAVA money was permissible and so far nothing has been spent since his office has not received an invoice from the DCI for investigative work performed.
"The Secretary of State's office has stated that the investigation expenditures are an appropriate use of HAVA funds, under Title 1, as they are being used to improve the administration of federal elections," Schultz added in his statement. "Shame on Tom Courtney for trying to block criminal investigations into voter fraud and election misconduct."
Last month three people were charged with felony counts of voter fraud in Pottawattamie County as a result of a DCI probe initiated last month in conjunction with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office. Also in September, a Polk County judge halted Schultz's efforts to change some aspects of the state's voter laws that were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa.
Schultz filed emergency rules earlier this year 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. However, that access has not been granted.
In the meantime, Polk County 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.
Courtney said Tuesday that Schultz is continuing to use HAVA funds to pay the salary and operational costs of a criminal investigator to search for voter fraud. "Let me be perfectly clear: I have always believed that only eligible Iowans should be allowed to vote," Courtney said in a statement. "However, with only 34 days until the election, Secretary of State Schultz should immediately stop misusing Help America Vote Act funding for this misguided campaign."
Schultz's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday's developments.