DES MOINES — A district court judge on Friday halted Iowa’s Republican secretary of state from implementing voting rules he established without public input.
Polk County District Court Judge Mary Pat Gunderson said in her ruling that Secretary of State Matt Schultz could have followed normal rule-making procedures and that emergency rules were unnecessary before the November election.
Schultz created two rules in July without a public hearing, using an emergency administrative process. One would have challenged votes of individuals who appear on state and federal databases as noncitizens. A second rule would have made it easier to report alleged voter fraud.
He said he feared noncitizens would try to vote in November.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa filed a lawsuit to stop the rules. They claimed Schultz exceeded his rulemaking powers and that the rules were vague and could mistakenly deprive qualified voters of their right to vote.
While Gunderson said she was not issuing a ruling on those arguments and would consider them at a trial later, she stayed the rules and issued a temporary injunction, which prevents Schultz from enacting them until the court can hear the full arguments.
She did not agree with the argument Schultz made that he needed to pass the rules quickly because he had too little time before the November election to go through the normal process of hearings and public input.
Schultz has claimed he compared voter registration records with an Iowa Department of Transportation database and found more than 3,000 people registered to vote who were not citizens. He has been negotiating with the federal government to make another comparison to an immigration database purported to be more accurate.
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Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz has been critical of Schultz’s investigation and the timeframe involved. She asked Schultz’s office for the names of Scott County voters among the 3,000 to do her own investigation and hasn’t received them.
“This still means he can move forward with his criminal investigation, but I hope he doesn’t do anything until after the election,” Moritz said Friday. “This shows he should have come forward to the county auditors to do their own investigations.
“We want to get people to the polls, not exclude people from the polls, and we want to run elections with integrity. He’s had plenty of time to incorporate what he wanted to do in an expeditious manner and now we are less than 60 days from an election.”
Gunderson said Schultz could have started the process of making the rules earlier and that the time restraints he was under were self-imposed.
She added 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.