Legislative panel doesn’t stop voter purge rule

DES MOINES – A controversial voting rule targeting immigrants without U.S. citizenship will take effect this month after a state oversight committee failed to stop it Friday, but activists are threatening an immediate court fight.

The rule, proposed by Secretary of State Matt Schultz, establishes a way to remove from voter registration lists an individual whose citizenship is questioned. The Republican says the change is needed to reduce voter fraud, which he’s made his key issue, but opponents say the rule intimidates immigrants who are citizens.

The Administrative Rules Review Committee voted 5-5 along party lines on a motion to object to the rule. But since the objection needed six votes to pass, the rule will automatically take effect March 27. The legislative panel oversees state government agency rules and is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Schultz first proposed the change just a few weeks before November’s general election, but a Polk County judge blocked it after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. The ACLU said Friday it would do the same on the day the new rule takes effect.

The rule will allow Schultz’s office to compare Iowa driver’s license forms, on which applicants declare their citizenship status, with a federal immigration list designed to show if immigrants are eligible for government services.

If a person shows up on either list as a noncitizen and their name is found in voter registration rolls, the secretary of state’s office will send a letter challenging the voter registration. The letter also will tell the individual that registering to vote without citizenship is a felony. The name of anyone whose citizenship isn’t proven through the process would be forwarded to a local county election official for removal from the voter registration list.

Sen. Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, made the motion to object to the rule, saying state law specifically gives only the Legislature authority to change voter registration rules that could remove voters.

“It comes down to something pretty simple. Has the secretary of state crossed the line between the executive branch of government and the legislative branch of government? In my opinion from reading the law, he has,” she said.