Iowa Democrats have invested countless hours, resources and even illegal activity into trying to tear down Secretary of State Matt Schultz over the past three years, primarily due to his efforts to ensure voter integrity. Schultz’s critics thought they finally had him cornered when they learned last week that three Cerro Gordo County voters had their ballots mistakenly rejected in the 2012 elections because they were on a list of felons who are ineligible to vote.
Iowa Senate Democrats immediately blamed Schultz and hastily called a hearing in an effort to discredit the Republican secretary. Instead, Schultz presented mounds of evidence that showed the problems lie elsewhere and in fact it was the secretary of state’s office that discovered, and fixed, the issue.
The Democrats on the State Government Committee also had their political agendas exposed by a knowledgeable and well-spoken Schultz, who capably dissected the senators’ attacks. Schultz hammered the committee with his opening statement, saying the recent attacks on him by Democrats and the media were “baseless”.
“I am glad Senator Danielson finally agrees with me that every vote counts and has called this hearing. It is unfortunate that this committee has not taken voting problems seriously until now, even though there have been multiple people voting illegally and canceling the legitimate votes of Iowans,” Schultz said.
Schultz then explained that in fact, the three Cerro Gordo County voters were wrongly considered ineligible because faulty or out-of-date information was given to the secretary of state’s office by the judicial branch. The clerks of court in Iowa’s 99 counties are the custodians of the felon records.
Schultz also tied the problems to the Vilsack administration. Governor Tom Vilsack issued an executive order in 2005 that restored voting rights to felons that are completely discharged from their criminal sentence. However, it appears Vilsack never supplied a list of the felons that qualified to vote to either the 99 clerks of court of then-Secretary of State Chet Culver.
Secretary Schultz called the issue a “multi-layered” problem and recommended setting up a task force, with the senate and judicial branch involved, to solve the problems.
Suddenly, the Democrats on the State Government Committee realized their attempt to pin the Cerro Gordo voters’ eligibility problems on Schultz would fail. So they started to attack him on other issues.
Sen. Tod Bowman (D-Maquoketa) criticized the “tone” of Schultz’s opening statement and insinuated the secretary of state does not try to increase voter participation in Iowa.
Schultz countered that he made Iowa the first state to participate in the “Rock the Vote” program, which is designed to get young people interested in voting. Schultz also mentioned the Honor a Veteran program. Then he encouraged everyone on the committee to come together to ensure problems like the one in Cerro Gordo County do not happen again.
Next, it was Dick Dearden (D-Des Moines), who decided to ramble about how all felons should have their voting rights restored, an issue that is not decided by Secretary Schultz.
“I’m not the governor, so I guess my opinion really doesn’t matter, but I will say this: I think there are some crimes that you can’t fully restitute for, like kidnapping, murder and certain things like that. But I will agree, the vast majority of felons who have paid their dues should be eligible to vote,” Schultz said.
Next up was Sen. Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines). His back and forth with Matt Schultz was the most contentious during the hearing. McCoy criticized Schultz for using federal funds established in the Help America Vote Act for the voter fraud investigation being conducted by DCI. McCoy also railed against the cost of that program, which Schultz says will end up being around $240,000.
“We wouldn’t know about this problem if it wasn’t for these DCI investigations,” Schultz countered. “We wouldn’t even know about this problem if it wasn’t for the money we spent on DCI doing this. These three people today would not have their voting rights restored and the system fixed for them if it were not for these DCI investigations. If these DCI investigations didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because neither one of us would know about the problem.”
McCoy then criticized the method in which voter files for felons are input by the secretary of state’s office. The system is done by hand. McCoy wrongly claimed that if Schultz had instituted a more modern system, the Cerro Gordo County issue never would have happened.
Schultz noted that Senator McCoy never raised these concerns with the previous secretaries of state, predecessors, Chet Culver and Michael Mauro. Secretary Schultz then silenced McCoy with an emphatic rebuttal.
“We’re dealing with it now and we can throw missiles at one another all day long, but hopefully we can all sit down and agree that there’s a problem and we need to fix it,” Schultz said. “Even if we would have had an electronic program for these to enter, it still would have been wrong information because somebody’s name would have been given to us inaccurately.”
Finally, Senator Tom Courtney (D-Burlington) attacked Secretary Schultz for investigating voter fraud in Iowa, claiming the problem does not exist.
“This is a case where you and I are just going to have to disagree,” Schultz said. “I’ve seen 26 people charged, five plead guilty. Every time somebody votes who is not supposed to they cancel out the vote of a legitimate Iowa voter. I don’t know any Iowan who would raise their hand and say, ‘Yeah, you can cancel my vote out.’”
While the Democrats on the committee were surely disappointed with the outcome of the hearing, the Republicans were impressed with how Matt Schultz handled it.
“I appreciated his recommendations for addressing the issue going forward to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Sen. Charles Schneider of West Des Moines. “It’s unfortunate that some members of the committee used the meeting as an opportunity to launch personal attacks against the secretary of state rather than to address the real issue, which is that information on felons whose voting rights have been restored is not being reported to the secretary of state’s office.”
During the hearing, Sen. Jake Chapman (R-Adel) praised Schultz for working to ensure the integrity of Iowa’s elections. Afterwards, Chapman had sharp words for his senate colleagues.
“To suggest that Secretary Schultz is at fault in this situation is simply disingenuous or outright refusal of t facts,” Chapman told TheIowaRepublican.com. “This meeting became blatantly obvious that Senate Democrats are more interested in scoring political points then safeguarding elections. Iowans deserve better and expect much more from their elected officials.”
Senator Chapman has endorsed Matt Schultz in the Third Congressional District race, which Schultz is pursuing instead of running for reelection as secretary of state.
Another hearing on this issue is likely to be held. However, Democrats will be forced to tiptoe much more lightly after their efforts to pin the problem on Schultz largely backfired.
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