Government

Voters commission shoots down Linn County Auditor's complaint over election security

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller (left) addressed members of the state Voter Registration Commission and staff during a c
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller (left) addressed members of the state Voter Registration Commission and staff during a commission meeting on Oct. 30, 2019, in Des Moines. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

A state commission dismissed Linn County Auditor Joel Miller’s allegations that the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office falls short of federal election security requirements.

Iowa’s Voter Registration Commission sided with Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office Friday morning, voting 2-1 to reject Miller’s complaint.

Miller argued the office has not adequately safeguarded the state’s I-Voters registration database.

Commissioners W. Charles Smithson and Susan Bonham voted to grant the dismissal, with Kevin Geiken in opposition and Heidi Burhans — Iowa’s administrator of elections — abstaining.

Filed in July, Miller’s complaint hinged on Pate’s office’s purported failure to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which mandates state and local election officials provide “adequate technological security measures.”

Geiken and Smithson questioned “adequate” as a vague and unusual legal standard HAVA applies to election security measures.

“In some areas of life, if you called me ‘adequate,’ it would be OK. In other places, if you called me ‘adequate,’ it might lead to a fistfight,” Smithson said.

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“At this point, I don’t think there’s been enough sufficient factual information that would lead me to think that this complaint should move forward, but I understand how we got here and would hope that there would be ways that the parties and everyone else involved could work on some of these issues and come to some resolution outside this litigation process.”

In an emailed statement, Pate said, “My top focus has been and will continue to be protecting the integrity of Iowa’s elections. This was a frivolous complaint and waste of time at the expense of Linn County and Iowa taxpayers. It was dismissed on a bipartisan basis.”

Miller said he initiated his complaint after Pate’s office did not adequately address or “stonewalled” requests for information on the 14-year-old I-Voters database. Smithson likened Miller’s complaint to a “fishing expedition” for those details.

Among Miller’s areas of concern were the absence of a two-step process for transferring voter records between counties and errors with the state’s list of felons ineligible to vote.

Pate’s office this month began rebuilding the state’s felon database, after news reports in late 2019 determined the list previously included more than two dozen eligible voters with misdemeanor convictions, plus former felons whose voting rights had been restored.

Though Bonham said she believes the Secretary of State’s Office made adequate procedures to make the felon list “as accessible as possible,” Geiken said he “remains unconvinced” that the list is secure, with no eligible voters “unfairly dismissed.”

The Secretary of State’s Office has instituted “extensive security measures” to protect the I-Voters database, including tools such as the VoteShield program to monitor for anomalies in voter registration patterns, its attorneys said in a legal brief.

After the hearing, Miller told The Gazette he “respectfully” disagreed with the commission’s decision.

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Miller said the decision was a “black-and-white” violation of a HAVA requirement for the commission to hold a contested case hearing. But he believes “the timing is off” for filing a new complaint in District Court, with the 2020 election approaching.

In the meantime, Miller said he plans to continue requesting I-Voters database information from Pate’s office.

“They won’t even let a select few county auditors behind the veil of the Wizard of Oz to see what’s behind there, and that’s a disservice to me as a county commissioner of elections and the voters of this state to put so much secrecy behind it so you can’t validate anything,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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