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Iowa Watchdog

Iowa voter fraud probe has yet to produce convictions

8/12/2013

DES MOINES – A $280,000 taxpayer-funded probe into voter fraud in Iowa has yet to produce a conviction after more than a year, although 13 individuals have been charged, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

With the $99,000 that has been spent during the first, Iowa taxpayers have paid more than $7,600 for each alleged case.

Charges stemming from the investigation, which is being conducted by the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation at the request of Secretary of State Matt Schultz, haven’t been dropped and at least several pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, said Chance McElhaney, spokesman for Schultz’s office.

Schultz expects more to be charged in the coming weeks, although that depends on when the investigator wraps up his work on the cases, McElhaney said.

It’s not the first time Schultz has made that promise to Iowans.

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz launched a probe a year ago into voter fraud. It has yet to lead to any convictions.

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz launched a probe a year ago into voter fraud. It has yet to lead to any convictions.

Meanwhile, county auditors have received little information from Schultz about the investigation. County auditors are charged with overseeing elections in their county and investigating possible voter fraud.

“There is so much going on at the state level that we are not privy to,” said Carla Becker, Delaware County auditor and president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors. “When things happen at the state level we don’t get information locally unless it’s happening in our county.”

“Elections are just huge. You can’t have a redo. There isn’t a do over button,” she added.

Delaware County had one instance of voter fraud during the 2012 presidential election, which prompted the state investigator to partner with the local sheriff and county attorney in investigating it. It turned out to be a misunderstanding of the law and the woman involved informed election workers about the mistake, Becker said.

A majority of cases of voter fraud that county auditors deal with stem from a lack of information about voting laws, auditors said. Largely, it isn’t intentional.

The $280,000 Schultz’s office is spending over a two-year period for the investigator came from a pool of federal dollars meant to educate and engage voters. A state lawmaker requested an investigation into the possible misuse of the money, which is now being looked into by the state auditor’s office.

“I don’t think it had ever been done before,” said Joel Miller, Linn County auditor. “This is the first secretary of state that has put any emphasis on it. Up until now it has just been assumed that our voter rolls are clean.”

Miller’s office identified roughly 100 cases of potential voter fraud during the past year, he said. Of those, there were three convictions in which the guilty had to pay fines of as much as $600. Four others are awaiting jury trials, Miller said.

Linn County, the second largest in the state, also had its first case of voter impersonation during a spring election for gambling. They were, however, unable to find the person responsible, Miller said.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Department investigated all but one of the cases without the involvement of the state’s investigator. Miller forwarded one involving an elected official to the state because of the potential for a conflict of interest.

“The local county auditors are dedicated to making sure their elections are efficient and effective,” Becker said. “They are following all of the rules. There are a lot of rules when it comes to elections. They understand they control those elections at the county level. They are in charge of those elections.”

Contact Sheena Dooley at dooley@iowawatchdog.org. Sheena Dooley is the Iowa bureau chief for Watchdog.org, where this story first appeared.

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