Rules governing an effort to verify the eligibility of thousands of Iowa voters cannot be enforced while a lawsuit challenging their validity goes forward, a Polk County judge has ruled. Judge Mary Pat Gunderson issued a temporary injunction to stay the implementation of the rules late Friday afternoon. The ruling casts no judgment on the merits of the case, but means Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s effort to check the citizenship status of more than 3,500 voters is on hold for the time being. Schultz has identified the potentially ineligible voters by comparing the state’s voter rolls to a Department of Transportation list of legal aliens who have obtained driver’s licenses. He’s now seeking to verify those voters’ citizenship status by cross referencing the list against a federal immigration database. The rules enjoined on Friday were passed earlier this summer through an emergency rulemaking process as part of Schultz’s effort to gain access to the federal database.
In her order, Gunderson said the harm posed to Schultz’s effort by an injunction was less than the potential harm to qualified voters if the rules remained in place. The rules “have in fact created confusion and mistrust in the voter registration process,” the judge found, and “have created fear that new citizens will lose their right to vote and/or be charged with a felony and caused some qualified voters to feel deterred from even registering to vote.” “The granting of the temporary injunction will simply maintain the status quo of the parties and the protections of qualified voters as they currently exist until final judgment on the merits of Petitioners’ claims can be determined,” she wrote.