DES MOINES - Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said Wednesday he has no intention of withdrawing a proposed new rule that establishes a process for removing voters from registration rolls if they can't prove citizenship.
The rule drew strong criticism at a public hearing last week in which 40 people spoke against it. Some of the same critics spoke at the Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee hearing Wednesday.
Brenda Brink, of Huxley, told the committee that Schultz is pursuing a problem that no one has proven exists.
"This is an imaginary problem. I want my taxpayer dollars to go for real problems," she said.
But Rep. Dawn Pettengill, a Mount Auburn Republican, said Schultz has found hundreds of noncitizens registered to vote indicating it is a real issue.
"It's not imaginary. There have been documented cases of people here who are not citizens that have voted," she said.
Charges have been filed in Iowa against eight individuals alleged to have voted without voting rights. Six are noncitizens and two were convicted felons who had not had voting rights restored.
The rule in question would call for the state to compare citizenship status records managed by federal immigration officials with Iowa voter registration rolls. Registered voters whose citizenship is found to be in question would be sent letters asking to prove they are citizens. Those who don't prove their citizenship would be removed by a county election official from voter rolls or challenged at the polls if they try to vote.
The rule is likely to go into effect March 13. After that, the rules committee is expected to bring it up again. The committee may vote to object to it, refer it to the Legislature, delay implementation, or let it go through.
Democratic Sen. Pam Jochum of Dubuque, a committee member, said Schultz doesn't have the legal authority to pass the rule himself. She said Schultz should send a bill to the Legislature for consideration so it can be fully debated.
"I believe this action needs to come before our branch of government and we need to take legislative action," she said.
Schultz, who did not attend the meeting, said afterward that he doesn't plan to do that.
"To me that's just politics," he said. "I'm just trying to do my job which is to make sure we have integrity in elections and protect voters' rights which is the whole point of this rule."
Schultz said the rule is needed because it's clear people who are not U.S. citizens are voting in Iowa.
A bill mirroring the Schultz rule might pass the House, where Republicans hold a majority, but would likely not get through the Democratic-controlled Senate
Ana Mancebo, an immigrant from Nicaragua living in Des Moines said the rule is a witch hunt and Schultz should work to expand voter rights, not suppress them.
Ernie Rudolph, of Earlham, said voters should be concerned when noncitizens vote because it dilutes everyone's vote.
"We've heard from a large number, a vocal minority," he said. "This is the best approach I have heard to validating voters."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and other civil rights groups say the rule intimidates minority voters, especially Hispanics. They want Schultz to withdraw it, and the ACLU has sued Schultz over the issue. That lawsuit is pending.