DES MOINES (AP) — Two felons who registered to vote were charged with election fraud Thursday as part of an ongoing investigation prompted by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz.
Jason Rawlin, 37, of Indianola and Stacy Brown, 37, of Kanawha registered to vote when they obtained driver's licenses or state identification cards in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
Rawlin told investigators he thought his voting rights had been restored. Brown said she signed but didn't thoroughly read paperwork when getting a license. The American Civil Liberties Union says Iowa's regulations for restoring the voter rights of felons are extremely confusing.
Rawlin and Brown are among five people now charged under an unusual two-year, $280,000 contract that Schultz's office signed with the Division of Criminal Investigation to look into voter fraud.
Schultz, a Republican who formerly served on the Council Bluffs City Council, has made voter fraud central to his first term as the state's top elections official. He has said he turned over more than 1,000 names of potential noncitizens who have voted since 2010, after comparing lists of noncitizens with driving permits against people who recently voted or registered.
DCI agent Daniel Dawson has been subpoenaing voting records, checking citizenship status and interviewing suspects as he builds cases. In court documents, he said he was notified by Schultz's office in September that Rawlin and Brown may have registered to vote even though they were felons.
Rawlin pleaded guilty to forgery charges in Wapello County in 2005. He told the DCI agent that he believed his right to vote was restored after his release from prison in 2001 from an earlier conviction.
Brown, who was convicted in 2009 after pleading guilty to possession of anhydrous ammonia, told the agent she signed paperwork when getting a driver's license but didn't carefully read the documents.
Brown and Ralwin, who have been released, were charged with election fraud and fraudulent practices. Election fraud is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine.
Last month, three Council Bluffs residents — a husband and wife from Canada and a Mexican citizen living legally in the U.S. since 1986 — were arrested and charged with election misconduct for illegally voting as noncitizens. They were the first to be charged under the contract Schultz's office has with DCI.
The ACLU of Iowa says Iowa's regulations for restoring voter rights of convicted criminals are among the most regressive in the nation.
Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, issued an executive order in 2005 automatically restoring the right to vote for people after they completed sentences for felonies and most aggravated misdemeanors. His successor, Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, continued that policy.
But current Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, issued an order in January 2011 requiring individuals seeking to restore their rights to go through an application process that includes proof of payment of all fines, fees and restitution.
The result, according to the ACLU, is confusion.
“It's so confusing we get questions from attorneys about whether someone's right to vote has been restored or how that person could seek to restore their right to vote,” said ACLU attorney Rita Bettis. “Only if you had a lawyer standing there with you to explain all the intricacies of this complicated system would you be able to navigate it.”
And some prosecutors believe it may be difficult to prove that people who wrongfully registered to vote had the intent to commit fraud. The law requires prosecutors to prove that the actions were “willful.”
Schultz said in a statement that he's grateful the DCI continues to pursue “election crimes.”
“Every person who cheats in our election process deprives a hardworking, eligible citizen of their voice in our government,” he said. “That is why I have been fighting for election integrity and will continue to do so.”
The county prosecutors in Wright and Warren Counties, where the charges were filed Thursday, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
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