Some Counties Say Secretary Of State's New Voter Verification Directive Shifts Liability, Costs

Apr 5, 2017

At least two of Iowa’s 99 county auditors say a directive from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate to verify the status of felons in a state voter registration database is an expensive and legally burdensome unfunded mandate. 

Early this year, counties were told that in April they would receive instructions for processing voter records to determine if any felons were illegally registered to vote. Counties received these directions Monday, and the auditors of Linn and Johnson counties are not happy.

"So instead of a single office in the state, i.e., the secretary of state, being responsible for working with Iowa’s court system, the secretary of state is pushing the work and the liability for errors onto me and Iowa's other county auditors," says Linn County Auditor Joel Miller.

The state previously issued a list of people ineligible for voting, which counties relied on during elections.

Now counties are directed to verify the accuracy of any potential match from a database maintained by the office of the State Court Administration. This database cross checks felons with voter rolls by matching information like name and date of birth. 

The additional step of match verification places the final determination of someone's voter eligibility at the county level.  This means the possibility of charges also shifts more heavily to county workers if someone's voter registration is falsely canceled. 

Legally cast votes have been thrown out before due to inaccuracies in the state's list. In 2012, a dozen ballots were erroneously not counted for this reason. 

"The request was made to auditors to determine if the matches were accurate, as they would with any other registered voter," writes secretary of state spokesman Kevin Hall in an email. "This step is being taken to ensure the accuracy of the voter rolls and make sure every eligible Iowan is able to cast a ballot."

Travis Weipert, auditor for Johnson County, argues the directive is not enforceable because the Iowa Code does not give the secretary of state the authority to make such a request from county auditors. Weipert also says the mandate is especially burdensome from an administrative standpoint for municipalities with larger populations. 

"I'm going to be running chasing people like crazy with this," he says.  

Not all counties are as upset by the new directions. While he has some questions, Black Hawk County Auditor Grant Veeder says he is not worried.

"It will be an added workload,” Veeder says. “[But] it’s coming well ahead of election time.”