A task force created to fix errors in Iowa’s database of ineligible felon voters met once for two hours, failing to resolve a problem that has disenfranchised at least a dozen people, records show. Secretary of State Matt Schultz formed the group in April after finding 12 cases in which errors on the 50,000-name list resulted in the wrongful rejection of ballots from non-felons or people who had their voting rights restored. Schultz said the panel would develop a “long-term solution to fix inaccuracies contained in the state’s felon file. More than four months passed before the group held its first and only meeting Aug. 29, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press under the public records law. “If we get done early, so be it,” then-Secretary of State general counsel Charlie Smithson emailed members before the meeting, scheduled for four hours.
Smithson defended the task force’s work, saying the meeting got government agencies talking to each other and led to incremental progress on short-term solutions. The group is expected to disband without producing a report.
“I don’t know that this group had the authority or power to come up with a long-term fix,” Smithson said.
Secretary of State-elect Paul Pate, who replaces Schultz next month, said Thursday he would study the problem and “figure out a way to get us back on track.”
Under a policy reinstated by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011, Iowa is one of three states in which felons are disenfranchised for life unless their rights are restored by the governor. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed a lawsuit last month arguing that the practice is unconstitutional, seeking to restore voting rights for thousands of former offenders. Between July 2005 and January 2011, Democratic governors had automatically restored offenders’ rights once they left state supervision. The changes have created confusion among former offenders about their eligibility, while the list’s errors exacerbate the problem.