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Lawmakers to discuss new Iowa voter rules

September 11, 2012
By DAVID PITT , THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

DES MOINES - New voter rules Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz created in July face two hurdles, one at the courthouse and the other at the Capitol.

While Polk County Judge Mary Pat Gunderson considers legal arguments over whether to allow Schultz to move forward with the emergency rules he established, the Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee will meet Tuesday to consider what action it may take.

The rules would allow Schultz to begin a process to purge certain voters from Iowa's voter registration list and make it easier to report fraud. Schulz, a Republican, approved the rules in July on an emergency basis without public input, saying he had to act before the November election to ensure noncitizens don't vote.

Schultz has asked the legislative committee to approve the rules permanently. However, the group has little authority to stop the emergency rules from being enacted if Gunderson finds Schultz had the legal authority to create them.

What the committee could do is move forward with a more formal process that allows for public comment and hearings before making the rules permanent. The panel, made up of five Democrats and five republicans, meets Tuesday, with the rules on the agenda for 1 p.m.

One new rule would allow Schultz to seek removal of voters from Iowa's registration database by comparing it against a state Department of Transportation list and a federal immigration list. Registered voters appearing on the Transportation Department database with no U.S. citizenship would be cross-referenced with a federal immigration database. Those found not to be citizens would be notified that they will be removed from voter rolls and given an opportunity to prove citizenship.

Opponents worry that certain groups of voters - including Hispanics who have historically favored Democrats - may be intimidated not to register to vote.

The second rule would allow anyone to anonymously report allegations of voter fraud. Current law requires complainants to sign a sworn statement and risk prosecution if they falsely allege fraud.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit last month to block Schultz from enacting the rules. The groups also plan to make their arguments to the rules committee.

Similar voter registration challenges have occurred in other states including Florida and Texas.

Attorney Joseph Glazebrook told Gunderson last week that Iowa's existing system for challenging a voter's status works. He also said Schultz didn't have the authority to unilaterally create new voting rules that are contrary to existing laws.

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Thompson, arguing on behalf of Schultz, said the rules add an extra layer of security. Thompson said they are intended to protect voters by ensuring people who are not citizens are not voting.

Gunderson said Thursday that she would rule as quickly as possible on the emergency rules.

Schultz has not begun the process of challenging voters yet because he is still negotiating with the federal government on the access to its immigration database. Unless Gunderson halts the implementation of the rules, Schultz could begin the process once he receives the access.

The Democratic Party of Iowa will argue before the review committee Tuesday that any systematic removal of voters from registration lists "demands careful adherence to law and to transparency." The party says the Schultz rule does not meet those standards.

"The threatening nature of the proposed notices, and the vast discretion given to a single person elected to a partisan office, creates a grave risk that significant numbers of properly registered voters could be disenfranchised," wrote attorney Steven Wandro, representing Democrats. They call on the committee to withdraw the rule.

The Senate chairman and House chairwoman of the rules committee did not immediately return calls Monday.

 
 

 

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