A state push to bring felony charges against noncitizens who voted in recent Iowa elections could run into two key roadblocks: local prosecutors who do not want to pursue the cases and jurors who may find no criminal intent. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation announced Thursday that three Council Bluffs residents — a husband and wife from Canada and a Mexican citizen living legally in the U.S. since 1986 — were arrested and charged with election misconduct for illegally voting. They were the first, and likely not the last, charges brought under an unusual two-year, $280,000 contract Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s office signed with the DCI to investigate voter fraud, his signature issue. But the push to prosecute legal residents who were ineligible to vote because they are not U.S. citizens may raise questions about selective enforcement and whether they had the intent to commit fraud. Police and prosecutors this year already declined to bring some similar cases discovered before the statewide effort started, citing a lack of intent, the cost associated with the cases and the harsh penalties they entail.
Election misconduct is a class D felony punishable with up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine. Convictions could trigger consequences for residents’ immigration status, including their possible removal if the offense is considered an aggravated felony, defense lawyers said. Juries may be reluctant to convict suspects if they believe they simply made a mistake and thought they were eligible to vote, according to defense lawyers, who note the law requires the actions to be “willful.”