Database not key to Iowa voting probe

IOWA CITY – As part of his campaign to investigate election fraud, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz has been waging a two-year battle for access to a federal database to help identify noncitizens who voted illegally.

But for all the effort, the Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlements database was not needed to investigate those voters, according to an email obtained this month by The Associated Press under the public records law. The agent leading Iowa’s voter fraud investigation told Schultz’s aides in August that he already had a “more accurate” way of getting that information through Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Nonetheless, Schultz and state lawyers continue to fight a lawsuit that has blocked his office from using the so-called SAVE database, a web-based system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

“I explained my work with ICE is a more accurate search than what the SAVE database is going to provide them with,” Division of Criminal Investigation agent Matt Anderson wrote to a superior, recounting an Aug. 19 conference call he had with Schultz’s legal counsel Charlie Smithson and elections director Sarah Reisetter. “Their reasoning for wanting the names run through SAVE is they fought to get the system and they need to use it.”

Ultimately, Schultz’s office has never used the SAVE database, because of a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups. A judge has issued an injunction blocking the secretary of state from using it while they challenge rules that would guide the checks and removal of questioned voters.

Schultz applied for SAVE access in April 2012, after his office claimed that more than 1,200 voters and 3,500 who were registered had been issued driver’s licenses as foreign nationals. Many likely became citizens before voting. Schultz’s office said the SAVE queries would clarify their status, allowing noncitizens who voted to be referred for criminal investigation and removed from the voter list.

Critics argued that SAVE, typically used to determine whether one is eligible for government benefits or licenses, was riddled with errors and using it would cause problems. Federal officials conceded the database had significant limitations when used to verify voters’ citizenship and wanted safeguards to prevent misuse.

Schultz accused the Department of Homeland Security of needlessly delaying Iowa’s application, criticizing the agency during testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2012.