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IA: Judge’s ruling could prevent purging of noncitizens from voter rolls

By   /   September 12, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog

Schultz: Voter rolls must be purged to protect integrity of elections.

DES MOINES — A lawsuit against Iowa’s top election official will move forward, after a Polk County District Court judge denied a request to dismiss it.

Secretary of State Matt Schultz and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is representing Schultz, requested in July that a lawsuit seeking to an injunction to emergency rules imposed in July to purge voter lists of alleged noncitizens be dismissed. They alleged the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens groups lacked legal standing to challenge the rules.

Judge Mary Pat Gunderson, however, said in her opinion Tuesday that legal standing wasn’t needed, because previous rulings allow lawsuits to advance if they are based on allegations of surprise, secrecy, fraud and deceit. Also, courts can take up matters that threaten the constitutional rights of individuals, she said.

The lawsuit against Schultz, who is a Republican, involved similar allegations. Also, dismissing it could affect a citizen’s “fundamental right” to vote, because of the timing of the emergency rules. The rules most likely would not face scrutiny prior to the November election without court action, Gunderson wrote.

“Because it involves the right to vote it is a situation ‘of utmost importance’ where ‘constitutional protections are most needed’,” Gunderson wrote.

Chad Olsen, spokesman for Schultz’s office, referred comment to Miller’s office. Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for the attorney general, declined comment, saying it’s an ongoing case.

The decision allows the two groups to continue their push for an injunction to block Schultz from moving forward with the rules, which allow his office to remove alleged noncitizens from Iowa’s voter registration list.

Schultz has yet to receive a federal immigration database that provides the up-to-date statuses of immigrants, which is needed to vet the 3,500 questionable voters on the rolls, Schultz told lawmakers Tuesday. Iowa law only allows voters to be removed from the registration list, if it’s prior to 70 days before the election.

“Standing is just a threshold issue,” said Rita Bettis, attorney for the Iowa ACLU. “But we’re heartened that the case will proceed, because this is an issue of great importance to voters in this state.”

Gunderson’s ruling came on the same day Schultz testified before lawmakers, saying his actions were necessary to maintain the integrity of elections. Members of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee and the public, however, questioned the decision and Schultz’s intentions to remove voters from the rolls so close to the November election.

Those opposed to the measure say it stifles the votes of minorities and doesn’t allow naturalized citizens enough time to provide the necessary documentation to prove their eligibility to vote.

“This is an exciting period,” said Joe Henry, state director of the United Latin American Citizens in Iowa. “We don’t want the same thing to happen in Iowa as what happened in Pennsylvania and Florida. I would like to think our elected leaders have more sense when it comes to voting.”

Contact Sheena Dooley at dooley@iowawatchdog.org.



Sheena formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.