New state rules meant to identify noncitizens on Iowa’s voter rolls could have the unintended effect of intimidating eligible voters, several Iowans and immigrant advocates told a state panel on Tuesday. The rules at issue — passed this summer through an emergency process without public input — outline procedures for the Iowa Secretary of State’s office to use a federal database to verify the citizenship status of registered voters in Iowa. Secretary of State Matt Schultz has been seeking access to the database for several months. By using state Department of Transportation records, Schultz believes he has identified more than 3,500 people who are in the country legally and are registered to vote in Iowa, but are not citizens. Tapping the federal data would allow Schultz’s office to determine more accurately which of those voters are not citizens and thus ineligible to vote. The new rules are meant to satisfy the federal government’s demands for how the database will be used.
In Tuesday’s meeting of the Iowa Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee, Schultz argued that the rules will actually provide more due process for voters and ensure that Iowa doesn’t pursue a purge like the one undertaken this year in Florida that potentially throws out eligible voters with the ineligible. “The point is not to chill the vote,” he said, adding, “This is not meant to discriminate against anybody.”
But officials with the ACLU and a Latino group as well as naturalized citizens and advocates for the immigrant community said the effect of the rules could be just the opposite. “We are sincerely concerned that Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s actions are having a chilling and intimidating effect on the willingness of the Latino community to vote,” Joseph Enriquez Henry, president of the Iowa Council of the League of United Latino American Citizens, told the committee.