CEDAR RAPIDS — Secretary of State Matt Schultz is not unaccustomed to criticism.
However, the former city council member thinks the brickbats he’s been getting for filing emergency rules to clean up voter registration rolls may be premature.
Faced with a small window for identifying and removing non-citizens from the Iowa registration list before Nov. 6, Schultz filed emergency rules to begin a process that might result in some Iowans’ ballots being challenged if they vote in the general election.
However, Schultz told The Gazette Editorial Board on Thursday that there are “multiple layers” of protection for voters who are identified as non-citizens and therefore not eligible to vote in the United States.
“We’re trying to provide more due process” than is required by current Iowa law, the first-term Republican said. “We didn’t want what happened in Florida. We didn’t take that 3,500 number and forward it to the counties and say ‘You have to challenge these individuals.’”
Based on Iowa Department of Transportation driver’s license information, the Secretary of State’s Office compiled a list of more than 3,500 people registered to vote who may be non-citizens. Just more than 1,200 of those people had a voting history going back to 2010 and more than 1,400 have voted since 2010.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, however, doesn’t think there is enough due process and has gone to court to stop Schultz from operating under the emergency rules. Attorney General Tom Miller is defending the Secretary of State’s Office, asking a Polk County judge to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa.
Like Schultz, Miller said Schultz’s office is acting reasonably in trying to prevent fraud without suppressing or chilling the participation of legitimate citizens. The administrative rules adopted through the emergency rule-making process, he said, “created more due process for voters.”
As far as he knows, Schultz said, not one person has been removed from the voter rolls for being a non-citizen.
Any voter identified as a non-citizen will have the opportunity to respond to Schultz’s office before the name is sent to the county auditor. Once a name goes to an auditor, there is a process in place so the voter has the opportunity to have a hearing and, if desired, appeal to district court.
He’s not leading a purge of voters, Schultz insisted.
“I don’t like that word because it sounds like we’re just going in and just removing people. That’s not what’s going on here,” he said. “This is really an anti-purge rule. We’re saying it’s wrong to just throw people off. There is a fair process in place that gives you multiple layers to respond, including a hearing.”
It’s his understanding of Iowa law that once the names are sent to the auditors, it is their responsibility to challenge any ballots cast by potentially ineligible voters in the Nov. 6 election. Those “provisional ballots” will go to a special precinct board that determines their validity.
In the end — after the state has been able to cross-check non-citizen driver’s license holders against the federal Systematic Alien Verification Entitlements database — it will be up to county auditors, not Schultz, to clean up voter rolls.
“At the end of the day, they’re the final judge … in judging who’s coming off the rolls and who’s not,” he said. “They have the ultimate say.”