DES MOINES — Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said Wednesday he expects to move forward in March with new rules intended to protect voting rights and prevent unauthorized people from casting election ballots.
“I feel pretty confident where we stand. We really have been very measured in the way we’ve approached this issue,” said Schultz, who noted that rule changes he has proposed to take effect as early as March 13 have the backing of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
Schultz’s comments came on a day when critics panned his rule modifications that would set up a process for county and state election officials to verify the status of registered voters suspected of being non-U.S. citizens or ineligible convicted felons using a federal Homeland Security database. Those whose citizenship or legal voting status came under challenge would be notified and have at least four months to provide proper documentation proving their right to vote.
During the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee discussion of Schultz’s proposed changes Wednesday, critics said the rules are an attempt to “purge,” suppress, persecute, disenfranchise and intimidate mainly Latino voters, immigrants and new citizens.
“Voter fraud is a nonexistent problem,” said Ana Belen Mancebo, 21, of Des Moines, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “We should expand voter rights, not suppress them. Stop attacking immigrants, stop wasting taxpayer money, do the right thing and throw out this rule.”
However, committee chairwoman Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, challenged opponents’ contentions that voter fraud is “an imaginary problem.”
She said at least eight people have been charged in a state Division of Criminal Investigation probe of ineligible voting and Schultz’s proposals are designed to protect the integrity of Iowa’s voting process. Six people have been cited for casting ballots as noncitizens and two cases involved convicted felons whose voting rights had not been legally restored.
Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said she believed the rule changes Schultz has proposed “exceeded the authority” of the Secretary of State’s Office and should be enacted as statute changes by the Iowa Legislature. She called on Schultz to withdraw the proposed changes and allow lawmakers to consider the issue.
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Schultz told reporters that if Jochum wants to sponsor a bill that would make the changes he proposes, he would support it. In the meantime, he believes the rules need to be put in place as a balance between protecting voters’ rights and ensuring election integrity.
“I think we’ve walked that tightrope very well,” he said. “There’s plenty of precedent for the Secretary of State to pass rules regarding voter registration. If legislators feel that we’ve exceeded our authority, they can vote against the rule. To me, this is just politics. We’ll let the politics play. I’m trying to do my job, which is to make sure that we have integrity in elections and to protect voters’ rights.”
The legislative panel will still have the option once the rules are finalized to delay implementation while lawmakers consider this issue. Also, six members of the rules committee could vote to object to the rules, which would shift the burden of proof if the rules are subject to a court challenge.
Previously, Schultz filed emergency rules to be in place for the November 2012 election but two groups challenged their implementation and a Polk County judge issued a temporary stay while the matter is decided in court.