Iowa secretary of state appoints DCI agent to investigate voter fraud

Auditors surprised state is looking into counties' business

Matt Schultz, Iowa Secretary of State. (Gazette file photo)
Matt Schultz, Iowa Secretary of State. (Gazette file photo)

An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent has been assigned to a two-year term in Secretary of State Matt Schultz's office to look into allegations of voter fraud, the Republican election chief's top cause, The Associated Press has learned.

County auditors, who run local elections, told the AP they were surprised when they were introduced to Special Agent Daniel Dawson and informed of his new role during a training meeting Wednesday in Cedar Rapids. Auditors said they also were taken aback when Dawson and another state official told them that he was looking into between 2,000 and 3,000 voters already.

"I don't know ever of a DCI investigation into county auditors' business. I've been here since 2008, but I don't think it's probably ever happened before," said Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, who was told Dawson is looking into 180 voters in her county.

Schultz, who took office last year, has vowed in recent months to prove that voter fraud exists, as he relentlessly pushes lawmakers to pass a law requiring voters to show photo identification, which he says would safeguard elections. Many Democrats and some local officials say that requirement is not needed because of Iowa's history of clean elections.

Schultz spokesman Chad Olsen initially refused to confirm Dawson's appointment Thursday. He later confirmed it by email but refused to answer questions about how it came about or the cost. He also would not comment on how many cases were under investigation, saying many would likely turn out to be data mistakes, such as people who had similar names.

"We don't want to just throw numbers out there and get people worked up until we know what we're dealing with," he said. "You're catching us in the middle of a process, and we're still working through it."

DCI assistant director Charis Paulson said Friday that Dawson was reassigned to Schultz's office after the secretary of state asked DCI for help investigating voter fraud. She said Schultz's office will reimburse the Department of Public Safety for Dawson's salary, benefits, vehicle and other expenses. She said didn't immediately have the full price tag, but said a rough estimate would be $280,000 over two years. The arrangement will be re-evaluated then.

Paulson said she has been told DCI is looking into about 2,000 possible voter fraud violations, and emphasized that decisions on whether to bring criminal charges remain would remain with county prosecutors.

Dawson had been assigned to the major crimes unit in Council Bluffs, a position Paulson said will be left open. She said his new assignment would involve "a lot of leg work," given that Iowa has 99 counties, but he is well-suited to the role, with strong communication and leadership skills.

"He's excellent at interviewing and looking at all the evidence to weigh it and evaluate it," Paulson said.

Schultz's aides already have taken a number of steps to look for voter fraud and clean up outdated registration information. They've compared the voters in Iowa's 2010 election against names of voters from 14 other states in the same election to see if individuals voted multiple times. They've also hired an outside vendor, InfoGroup, to help auditors identify and remove hundreds of deceased individuals from Iowa's voter registration database of 2.1 million names.

They've used state driving records to identify more than 1,000 registered voters who may not be citizens and are seeking access to a federal database to check their citizenship status before taking steps to remove them. Emergency rules enacted last month require auditors to send voting histories for those people, along with election registers they signed and absentee ballot envelopes, to Schultz's office.

Jones County auditor Janine Sulzner, a Republican based in Anamosa, said it was "extremely unfortunate" that auditors had not been informed earlier of Dawson's hiring. She called the number of voters under investigation "a little suspicious" and said auditors should be involved since they know many of their residents.

Ken Kline, another Republican who serves as Cerro Gordo County auditor in Mason City, said he had many questions about the hiring and what Dawson will investigate. He said he believed many of the cases under review would turn out to be simple data errors."I wish we had better communication as to what databases were compared, what were the procedures, what were the parameters, the controls," he said. "We do a lot of that in this office and you have to be very careful, especially with something of this volatile of a nature."

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