DES MOINES - A rule proposed by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz that would establish a process for removing voters from registration rolls if they can't prove citizenship drew heavy criticism Thursday from around the state at a public hearing.
"As a veteran this is not what those of us who went to Vietnam fought for," said Arthur Heyderman, of Bettendorf. "It is not what my brothers and sisters died for."
Heyderman echoed the belief of many speakers that Schultz should work to encourage more voters rather than discourage some. Many said Schultz, a Republican, is motivated by politics to limit the minority vote and hasn't shown voter fraud is a problem in Iowa.
Ana Mancebo, who moved to the United States from Nicaragua and is a naturalized citizen working in Des Moines, said noncitizens living in fear of deportation will not risk getting thrown out of the country to vote.
"We do not come here to commit voter fraud," she said. "It's a nonexistent problem. It's a problem you invented and now you want to make it our problem. Put an end to this witch hunt for voter fraud."
Most of 40 speakers asked Schultz to drop the rule.
Janet Weaver, of Iowa City, said the rule "takes a racist approach with the ultimate goal of keeping Hispanics from voting."
"I am speaking as an immigrant and I urge Secretary of State Schultz to stop this nonsense," said Maria Rundquist, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico, who lives in Sioux City. "Let's live in harmony and peace."
The hearing was conducted from Des Moines over the Iowa Communications Network, a state-owned closed circuit video system that allowed participants from more than a dozen locations.
The rule Schultz has proposed challenges the right to vote of individuals who are listed on the state Department of Transportation database as noncitizens. Schultz also is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to access its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program, which is used to verify immigration status. Schultz hopes to also use that program to confirm whether registered voters are legal U.S. citizens.
The rule allows Schultz's office to mail a letter to anyone on voter rolls who shows up as a noncitizen on those lists. It gives them 30 days to file a challenge. A second notice would be sent with another 30-day response period if there is no answer to the first. Those receiving letters requesting information on their citizenship would also be allowed to ask for as much time as needed to produce documents to prove citizenship, said Chad Olsen, a spokesman for Schultz.
American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa lawyer Rita Bettis said those lists are outdated and inaccurate and would result in legal voters being harassed and perhaps discouraged from voting.
She argued that state law does not give Schultz the legal authority to make such a drastic change in election enforcement.
Schultz, who did not attend the hearing, said Wednesday in an interview there's plenty of precedence for secretaries of state implementing rules, so he feels he's on solid ground by pushing such changes himself.
He has no plans to stop and said his check of a DOT database showed 3,000 people listed as noncitizens whose names also appeared on voter registration rolls.
"I have to do something. I can't just sit back and do nothing when we know people are taking advantage of the system," he said.
He said his goal is to find a balance between having an election system with integrity and ensuring voter rights.
The rule will be reviewed by the Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee on Wednesday. It will move forward unless two-thirds of the committee objects or objections are filed by Attorney General Tom Miller or Gov. Terry Branstad.
The earliest the rule could become effective is March 13.
Schultz has made fighting voter fraud a priority since taking office in 2011. He also has pushed for a law that would require voters to show photo identification to vote.
He is paying an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent to look into voter fraud cases and file charges against those suspected of voting without legal citizenship.