116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DAVENPORT — Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand on Thursday announced his office will investigate payments made by former Democratic Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz to election workers last summer.
"These potential overpayments have been publicly reported and may be a misuse of Help America Vote Act funds made available through the Iowa Secretary of State Office," Sand, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The Iowa Secretary of State Office will assist with the investigation, and the State Auditor's Office will issue a report with its findings when the audit is completed, according to a news release.
Sonya Heitshusen, public information officer for the State Auditor's Office, said findings from the investigation will be shared with the appropriate federal oversight agencies, the Iowa Attorney General's Office and Scott County attorney. Any penalty would be determined by those officials.
County attorney: No criminal conduct
Scott County Attorney Michael Walton said the unauthorized payments to poll workers were reviewed and documented by an outside auditing firm as part of the county's annual audit.
"And in reviewing that audit, my understanding of the outcome that was agreed to was that steps would be taken so this did not occur again, and I did not see any criminal conduct," Walton said. "It was not fraudulent. It was all out in the open. She (Moritz) did not benefit, nor did anybody in her office benefit."
County supervisors in December chided Moritz for unilaterally deciding to increase poll workers' pay to $15 an hour from $10 to $12 an hour for working the June primary during a statewide public health emergency, without first gaining approval from the supervisors.
Moritz, who resigned April 23, said she made a mistake and thought she had the authority to increase the wages and had money within her budget to do so. She also contends her office did not use the federal Help America Vote Act funds to help pay for the June primary.
Moritz said she increased poll workers’ pay due to the difficulty of finding poll workers willing to work during the pandemic and civil unrest over police brutality and racial injustice that led to a local curfew. She said surrounding counties also paid more money to poll workers.
"We couldn't get people to work because people were worried about their safety working at a polling location with the public during the time of COVID," Moritz said. "We couldn't even get 63 (polling) locations. We had to drop down to 28 locations."
She said county elections staff was working 75 to 80 hours a week.
"(W)e were just crazy with all the changes that had to be made," Moritz said. "It was just a simple oversight on our part."
Scott County Supervisor Tony Knobbe, a Republican, took Moritz to task last winter in the wake of the county audit for failing to gain approval for the payroll change.
Time sheets altered
"Well in advance of the June primary election, Auditor Moritz made the unilateral decision to pay poll workers an effective wage of $15 an hour," Knobbe said during a December county board meeting. "She did this by altering the time sheets of those workers to equate to a $15 an hour wage. In some cases, the records reflect that a worker logged more than 24 hours in a single day.”
Moritz said that the poll workers do not have time sheets, and that due to the payment system they use and because poll workers are paid for mileage and training, "we gave them more hours than what they actually worked" in a single day to arrive at $15 an hour.
"There was no intent on anyone's part in my office to deceive anybody or to do anything (malicious) to the county," she said.
Reached Thursday, Knobbe argued Moritz — a past president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors and Scott County auditor for 14 years, where she handled the county payroll — knew better.
"I get it was a very busy year and COVID put stress on everybody … but I don’t necessarily buy the argument that she thought she had the authority to pay them more," Knobbe said.
While neither Moritz nor her family benefited from the pay increase, he said, there are questions whether her actions violated the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act.
"I get that mistakes happen, but it’s terribly unfortunate," Knobbe said.
Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken, a Democrat, said "there is no debate there was a technical failure“ to gain board approval for the pay increases. But he believes Moritz was acting with good intentions under increased stress, pressure and workload to conduct a safe election during a pandemic, which led to the oversight.
"I have the utmost confidence in State Auditor Rob Sand that he will do a thorough and fair investigation," Croken said. "It seems to me to be an issue already reviewed and determined.
“The money was already in the budget, and (Moritz) was not seeking additional funds. ... The election was conducted in the throes of a pandemic, and it is my belief and impression the auditor was simply trying to ensure she had an adequate number of poll workers to keep the requisite number of polling locations open and available to the public."