Controversial Iowa voting rule goes into effect

DES MOINES – A new rule that allows election officials to remove people from voter registration lists if their citizenship is questioned took effect Wednesday.

The rule was backed by Secretary of State Matt Schultz, a Republican. He says the change is needed to reduce voter fraud, which he’s made his key issue since taking office in 2011. But critics have challenged him calling the rule a witch hunt, voter suppression, and a solution in search of a problem.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has been fighting Schultz in court to stop the rule and plans to launch a new legal challenge now that the rule has taken effect. The group says Schultz does not have the authority under Iowa law to enact the rule and that it will erroneously deprive qualified citizens of Iowa their right to vote.

The rule allows Schultz’s office to compare voter registration records against federal immigration lists known as SAVE, the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program. That program, 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 in the process of deportation and others.

Schultz has requested access to the program but has not yet received federal approval. He said the government has told him the application is approved, but he’s been waiting for the rule to become law to formalize an agreement. “We don’t have access to SAVE yet so it’s not like we can just run forward today and do this but obviously, we will be discussing how we move forward now and I do intend to,” he said.