By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES – Every person living in eight largely rural Iowa counties is registered to vote, while another county has more registered voters on its rolls than citizens, according to a new WatchdogLab.org analysis.
An additional 26 counties had voter registration rates of 95 percent or higher – the same percentage of state residents on voter rolls. Compared to other states, Iowa’s 95 percent registration rate in the past two presidential elections is relatively high, according to the group, which is owned by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
Some state voter registration officials, however, say the number is overly bloated due to lengthy steps to remove a name from the list required under federal law. It can take as much as eight years before a county auditor can remove a registered voter from the list. A number also argue the state’s outdated lists make Iowa’s 99 counties more vulnerable to voter fraud and impersonation at the polls.
Iowa election officials have to check various forms of ID to confirm a voter’s identity if they are no longer active on the rolls, meaning he or she hasn’t voted in the past eight years.
“We can’t just take people off at the drop of the hat,” said Carol Robertson, Mills County auditor and president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors. “They don’t go off our registers until we have verification.”
Earl Glynn, a researcher at WatchdogLab.org, looked at registered voters in Iowa, both active and inactive, and compared them to population figures from the U.S. Census. Some counties had bloated lists because officials had yet to remove people who died, moved out-of-state or simply stopped voting, election officials said.
Iowa is one of a number of states that tried to pass proposals requiring voters to carry photo IDs with them to the polls. Lawmakers, however, never passed the tighter rules.
That hasn’t freed Iowa from joining a list of other states intertwined in election controversies.
Republican Matt Schultz, secretary of state, faces a lawsuit from two minority advocacy groups in the state for what they allege was improper use of his power to enact emergency rules. Schultz adopted emergency rules in July allowing his office to vet voter lists by matching potential non-citizens to a federal database that provides up-to-date immigration statuses.
He also signed off on a contract with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations, in which his office is paying as much $280,000 in the next two years to hire a full-time investigator.
A Polk County judge in the matter denied Schultz’s request to dismiss the lawsuit because the two groups lacked standing. She then issued an injunction halting Schultz from taking any further action until the matter was settled in court.
Despite that, an investigator from DCI is still investigating the lengthy list of potential non-citizens and has brought election misconduct charges against at least five people in the past month.
“Iowa is a politically active state,” said Sarah Reisetter, director of elections for the secretary of state. Part of that is because we have the Iowa caucuses and a high turnout in presidential years.”
Fremont County, a western county in Iowa with about 7,300 residents, had 105 percent of its voting age-population registered to vote in 2010-11.
Counties with 100 percent registration rates include: Cass, Ida, Jackson, Johnson, Kossuth, Lyon, Madison and Pocahonta.
“I don’t think it compromises the election,” said Joan Kirk, Fremont County auditor. “I don’t think it’s just that easy. They have to say where they live. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but there area all kinds of things that could.”
Reach Sheena Dooley at firstname.lastname@example.org.