LatinoJustice joins amicus brief filed in Iowa Supreme Court Voter Purge case (ACLU v. Schultz)

Posted on 12/07/2014 @ 11:55 AM

Tags: amicus brief, latinojustice, prldef, aclu, iowa, voter protection, voter purge

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz in late July 2012 - only 4 months before the November 2012 general presidential election, unilaterally adopted two new administrative rules which would permit him to purge purported “non-citizens” from Iowa’s voter rolls. The new emergency rules (1) make it easier for people to make allegations of voter fraud with fewer consequences for making false allegations (Voter Complaint Rule); and, (2) allow the Secretary of State to conduct a purge of Iowa’s then highly reliable, accurate voter registration list (Voter Purge Rule). The challenged rules would allow the state to compare the names of registered voters to various databases including out of date driver’s license information and then send letters to suspected non-citizens requiring those voters to prove their citizenship in order to remain on the rolls.

The ACLU of IOWA in August 2012 petitioned the Iowa District Court for Polk County for judicial review of agency action and were granted a temporary injunction and a stay of the Implementation of the proposed administrative rules in September 2012 finding that the Secretary of State failed to justify his use of emergency rulemaking process, and circumventing public notice and comment given the attempted rules abrogated a qualified citizen’s fundamental right to vote. The Iowa court in March 2014 subsequently granted the petitioner’s motion for Judgment on the Merits, and entered an order enjoining the Secretary of State from enforcing administrative rules finding that he exceeded his statutory authority to promulgate the emergency voter registration purge rules inasmuch as there is no statutory basis allowing the Secretary of State to remove a voter for purported “lack of citizenship” inasmuch as he also lacked authority to use federal SAVE database. The Secretary of State then appealed claiming the rules do not disturb qualified voters’ voting rights.

LatinoJustice joined the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) in the amicus brief filed in September 2015. The amicus brief which was drafted by MALDEF, O’Melveny & Myers LLP in California, and Rush & Nicholson PLC in Iowa focuses on the particular vulnerability of naturalized citizen voters who are more likely to be identified as non-citizens, and thus more likely to be faced with the burden of having to provide citizenship documents in order to be permitted to remain on the voter rolls. Amici further contend that the Voter Purge Rule impermissibly endangers naturalized citizens’ right to vote because naturalized citizens are more likely to be misidentified as non-citizens, thereby imposing a costly burden on naturalized citizens to prove their citizenship and impinging upon their right to vote as well as a chilling effect on voter registration by newly naturalized citizens, and, therefore resulting in an adverse impact on all naturalized Latino voters.

LatinoJustice had previously successfully enjoined the Florida Secretary of State’s 2012 attempt to purge purported non-citizens in 2012 before the general election. The initial purge, which flagged nearly 2,700 registered Florida voters as alleged non-citizens, disproportionately affected voters of color. More than 82% of the voters who received notice letters were people of color, and many turned out to be eligible citizens. The parties in 2012 settled a separate discrimination claim in Arcia v. Detzner whereby Florida agreed to immediately cease its purge. In a subsequent appeal of the District Court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ voting rights claim, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in an amended November 2014 ruling found that Florida’s Summer 2012 voter purge of suspected non-citizens violated the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), because systematic removal programs are barred within 90 days of a federal election. In the majority opinion, Circuit Court Judge Beverly B. Martin concluded that the NVRA bars Florida from systematically removing voters from the rolls using the Department of Homeland Security’s federal immigration database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE), within 90 days of any federal election. Judge Martin found that “Eligible voters removed days or weeks before Election Day will likely not be able to correct the State’s errors in time to vote, which is why the 90 Day Provision strikes a careful balance: It permits systematic removal programs at any time except for the 90 days before an election because that is when the risk of disfranchising eligible voters is the greatest.”

Plaintiffs in included two Miami citizens wrongly targeted as non-citizens under Florida’s voter purge, and several organizational plaintiffs including the Florida Immigrant Coalition, National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, and 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East-Florida. Led Jenner & Block LLP, the legal team included a coalition of civil rights groups including LatinoJustice, the Advancement Project, Fair Elections Legal Network, and Project Vote -- as well as SEIU and the Law Offices of Chavez & De Leon, P.A. in Miami.

Download and read the brief here.

By Catherine Barreda, NYLS Class of 2015 and LatinoJustice Legal Intern Fall 2014.

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