Democrats criticize secretary of state at hearing

DES MOINES – Sec. of State Matt Schultz faced tough questions from Democrats at a legislative hearing Thursday, as lawmakers called election-night reporting problems “embarrassing” and asked why Schultz wasn’t seeking more money to update technology and boost staffing.

Schultz didn’t seek an increase of his $2.8 million budget, prompting legislators to question how he can make improvements without additional funding.

Schultz responded, “It is a great system when it works.”

Iowa’s online reporting system suddenly crashed during November’s general election, delaying election results from precincts for hours. Schultz directed his office staff to start posting PDF versions of the results online instead.

“It looked like we were rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. It just was embarrassing for us,” Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, said. “We understand systems failure but yours was at such a high level, and it was just so very public.”

Schultz blamed the failure on the host server, which he said the office began using last February because of its capacity to handle a large amount of traffic. But the 1 million page views on Nov. 6 triggered the server to crash anyway.

“We did not expect this to happen. We had tested the system for over a month,” Schultz said, adding that he still trusts the system and will continue to use it.

Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, grilled Schultz about his department paying a federal agent up to $140,000 to investigate state voter fraud. He accused Schultz of using state funds to scare Iowa residents out of voting.

Schultz says he is protecting the integrity of the voting system and believes he properly used his budget to reimburse the agent’s salary.

“If every vote counts it’s important to make sure that every vote’s protected,” Schultz said.