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Linn County voter eligibility challenge raises questions about election misconduct

Published: Jun. 29, 2016 at 9:00 PM CDT
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Linn County Auditor Joel Miller was presented with a unique scenario on Wednesday afternoon: hold a hearing to challenge a Linn County resident's voting eligibility, after learning that person had voted as a non-U.S. citizen in 2012.

The hearing never happened, however. In the minutes before the meeting was to start, Miller said he'd just been on a call with the county attorney's office. He'd been advised not to hold the hearing, because he would be acting in the same capacity as a judge in a courtroom, and he'd already taken part in some of the investigation. "It'd be like a district court judge seeing a robbery, calling the cops and saying, 'hey, I just saw this guy rob the store, and you need to go arrest [them],'" Miller said. "That judge can be a witness and report it, but he can't be the judge."

Miller says this all started earlier this year, when someone in Linn County sent his office an email saying this citizen had answered "no" to the question "are you a U.S. citizen" on a legal document. Miller said the citizen's name also showed up on voter registration rolls, which led to the investigation.

Miller said the unnamed citizen responded "no" to the first question on a jury summons form.

"It's a pretty unique avenue to find out if someone is a U.S. citizen or not," Miller told TV9.

However, by the time someone found that document and challenged the citizen's voting eligibility, Miller said too much time had passed for it to fall under legal action, at least in a criminal court. According to Iowa code 39A.2, voting as a non-U.S. Citizen is considered election misconduct, a Class D Felony in its first degree, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine.

"The statute of limitations had ran out on any crime associated with voting," Miller explained.

A non-U.S. citizen casting a vote that's counted undermines the integrity of the state's voting system, according to Linn County Republican Party chair Cindy Golding.

"We know there are illegal voters, just like we know there are people speeding down the highway," Golding said.

As someone who's served as a poll watcher in previous elections, she said more work needs to be done to prevent election misconduct before it happens, not prosecuting it after.

"We know that there are more cases of people attempting to vote who shouldn't," Golding explained.

She said there needs to be other ways to verify a person's voting eligibility like showing a photo ID at a polling location, something Iowa does not currently require.

"We either should have a different kind of drivers license for foreign nationals, or we should have some verification. We should have to show an ID," Golding said.

In the meantime, Miller said he doesn't know if the citizen he set up Wednesday's hearing for has been naturalized since 2012. That's a question that - for his office - may go unanswered.

"We will be watchful to see if this individual votes, casts an absentee ballot," Miller explained.

Miller said going forward, his office will be reviewing jury summons forms and checking those against voter registration rolls. He estimates his office only sees about a dozen cases of people ineligible to vote casting ballots during each election.

However, Golding said there's likely a lot more people out there who try to vote illegally or simply aren't caught.