DES MOINES — Two civil rights groups will proceed with their lawsuit challenging Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s authority to pass emergency voting rules in the months before an election.
It comes after a judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit over the weekend. Polk County Judge Scott Rosenberg said in a ruling Saturday that since there is nothing to stop the secretary of state from attempting to pass voting rules again prior to an election, the court must hear the case and resolve the issues.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa filed a lawsuit in August 2012 challenging two emergency rules Schultz began to enact that July, just four months before the November 2012 general election.
The groups believed the rules intimidated immigrant voters, including those who may have become recent citizens, and discouraged them from going to the polls or registering to vote.
One rule created a new procedure making it easier for voters to file complaints when they suspected another voter may not be eligible to cast a ballot. The second rule created a procedure for the secretary of state to identify voters who appeared not to be U.S. citizens according to Iowa Department of Transportation records, and recommend them for removal from voter registration lists.
A judge sided with the civil rights groups and on Sept. 13 issued an order preventing Schultz from moving forward with the rules prior to the election.
Schultz dropped the complaint rule but moved forward with a permanent rulemaking procedure on the rule that would identify and recommend removal for apparent noncitizens. Permanent rulemaking requires a public hearing and additional steps before the rule can become final.
Schultz completed the process and the rule became permanent on March 27. Two days later, the civil rights groups renewed their lawsuit. They claim Schultz improperly passed the emergency rules when no emergency existed, exceeded his legal authority by passing rules affecting the voter registration list, and violated the right to vote.
The groups say the emergency rules have created a chilling effect on the right to vote by discouraging citizens from registering and voting. They say this effect continues and only a court can remedy the problem.
“The alleged impact of the emergency rules on the right to vote is clearly a matter of public importance,” Rosenberg said in his opinion.
Schultz said in a statement he respects the judge’s decision to consider arguments in the case.
“We look forward to our day in court to show how we have created a common sense procedure to protect voters’ rights and ensure election integrity,” Schultz said.
The ACLU of Iowa’s attorney, Rita Bettis, said the judge’s order is a significant development in the case “because it allows important claims to protect the voting rights of Iowans to continue to be litigated.”