By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES — An Iowa lawmaker is asking for an investigation by federal and state officials into the money Secretary of State Matt Schultz is using to pay for an investigator he hired in July to find cases of voter fraud.
Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, sent formal complaints Tuesday to the Iowa State Auditor and U.S. Inspector General of the Election Assistance Commission, requesting a formal audit of money received under the Help America Vote Act.
Courtney, chair of the Government Oversight Committee, alleges Schultz inappropriately used the money to fund a two-year contract worth as much as $280,000 with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations. The money is allocated to states to teach voters about voting procedures, voting rights and voting technology, he said.
The DCI investigator has continued his work in searching for election misconduct, especially among noncitizens on the state’s voter rolls, despite a court order last month for Schultz to halt actions to purge voter lists until a lawsuit regarding the matter is settled.
Chad Olsen, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, did not respond to questions relating to the appropriateness of the continued investigation in relation to the court order, which says Schultz could not move forward with emergency rules he put in place at the same time he contracted with DCI. Those rules allowed his office to check the status of a more than 3,500 possible noncitizens using an up-to-date federal database.
“I don’t have any idea why the secretary of state has decided not to follow the judge’s ruling,” Courtney said. “I don’t know why he thinks he is above the jurisdiction of a judge. If I was told by a judge to stop, I would.”
Schultz condemned Courtney’s actions in a written statement, characterizing his efforts as nothing more than political grandstanding. He defended the expenditures, saying they improved the administration of federal elections, which is an allowable use under law.
“Senator Courtney is attempting to do everything within his power to prevent DCI from conducting their investigations,” Schultz said in the statement. “The proper and fair administration of elections in the State of Iowa is my responsibility as the chief elections officials. Iowans deserve clean and honest elections. Shame on Tom Courtney for trying to block criminal investigations into voter fraud and election misconduct.”
Similar efforts to vet voter rolls and strengthen voting requirements before November’s presidential election have been blocked, delayed or weakened. A Pennsylvania court recently said voters will not have to provide a state-approved ID when casting ballots.
Voter ID laws failed this year in Iowa, Texas and Wisconsin, and the Justice Department blocked a South Carolina law that was appealed in a federal court. Also, Florida and Ohio have restored early voting and voter-registration drives, according to various news reports.
Warren Jenkins, chief deputy of the Iowa auditor’s office, said his office will collaborate with the federal inspector general to ensure efforts aren’t duplicated. The state office will investigate what activity has taken place to determine whether to proceed with a special audit.
He did not have a timeline for moving forward.
“We don’t know where we are going to go yet,” Jenkins said. “With no more information than we have right now it’s impossible to say.”
Sheena Dooley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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