DES MOINES (AP) — Two civil rights groups have sued Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz to overturn a new state rule allowing people to be removed from voter registration lists if their citizenship is questioned.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens filed the lawsuit Friday in Polk County District Court in Des Moines. The rule took effect Wednesday. The lawsuit asks a judge to find the rule illegal and issue a court order that prevents it from being implemented.
Schultz, a Republican and former city councilman in Council Bluffs, has said the change is needed to combat voter fraud. Critics have called the rule a witch hunt, voter suppression and “a solution in search of a problem.”
“Voting is an area where we are all equal,” ACLU Executive Director Ben Stone said in a written statement. “Politicians shouldn't make it harder for qualified voters in Iowa to do their duty as citizens to vote. We will always zealously fight for the voting rights of Iowans. And we'll work to keep government bureaucracies from overstepping the bounds of their authority in a way that compromises citizens' rights.”
Schultz was not immediately available for comment Saturday. The groups prevented enactment of a similar emergency rule just before the November general election, but Schultz has pursued a permanent rule.
The rule allows Schultz to run the names of Iowa's registered voters through federal immigration lists known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program. SAVE, operated by immigration officials in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, compiles information from a dozen federal government databases about immigrants with temporary work or school visas, naturalized citizens, those being deported and others.
Noncitizens who appear on the SAVE list and on Iowa voter registration lists will be sent letters informing them that they may be illegally registered. Failure to prove citizenship within 60 days could result in removal from voter rolls by election officials.
Schultz has requested access to the program — used by some other states — but has not yet received federal approval.
The lawsuit says Schultz is exceeding his legal authority, and says only a bipartisan Voter Registration Commission has rulemaking authority when it comes to maintaining voter registration lists. It calls the rule vague, and says enforcement “poses a substantial risk of erroneously depriving qualified voters in Iowa of their fundamental right to vote ...”
The ACLU also contends that the databases Schultz plans to use contain numerous errors, were never designed to cross-check voters, contain insufficient data to do so comprehensively and put the burden on voters to prove their citizenship if they are identified, rightly or wrongly.
In an interview Wednesday, Schultz said he believes Iowa has a potential problem that needs to be solved.
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