- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz on Wednesday said nine additional cases of potential voter fraud have been reported in the state, the latest development in an ongoing debate over whether officials should invest resources on such cases.

The charges all involve felons who did not have their voting rights restored. Eight cases were filed in Black Hawk County, and one was filed in Lee County.

“Every vote can make a big difference and Iowans expect nothing less than fair and honest elections,” he said in a statement that thanked the county attorneys who filed the latest cases.

Rita Bettis, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said Schultz was investigating a small group of people who likely were simply confused about their voting rights.

“In addition to netting confused, marginalized Iowans who are trying to rebuild their lives after a conviction and are unlikely to understand the process, the investigation deters those voters who have actually had their rights restored, but are confused and terrified of getting caught up in the mess,” Bettis said in an email.

Schultz, who has announced he will run for U.S. Rep. Tom Latham’s House seat in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, has been criticized for his decision to pay the Iowa Division of Criminal investigation up to $280,000 in federal grant money to launch a two-year investigation into voter fraud in the state.

The money is part of the Help America Vote Act, which primarily funds education about voting procedures and other efforts to promote voting.

Chief Deputy Auditor Warren Jenkins concluded in a report released in December that the act does not address whether investigations into potential criminal activity are allowed. But she said Shultz should be prepared to repay the money if a federal election commission determines that the funds weren’t properly used.

The Election Assistance Commission cannot make a ruling until it has four members nominated by the president and approved by Congress. The last commissioners quit in December 2011, and Congress has not approved any nominees.

Schultz has said his use of the money is appropriate. Before Wednesday’s announcement, the investigations had led to charges against at least 16 people in Iowa. Many of the cases involve people who said they mistakenly registered or believed they were able to vote.

Bettis said there was “widespread confusion” among the public and some Iowa officials about the voting rights of ex-offenders. She added that automatic restoration of voting rights had been successfully in place since 2005, but Gov. Terry Branstad made the policy more restrictive in 2011.



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