Matt Schultz, Former Voter Fraud Crusader, Defends “False” Cruz Mailers

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Ted Cruz campaigns at the Gateway Hotel Saturday morning in Ames. Photo: Jon Lemons/Iowa Informer

On Saturday, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate criticized the presidential campaign of Ted Cruz for a caucus mailer headlined “RECEIPT COPY, OFFICIAL PUBLIC RECORD” and “VOTING VIOLATION,” with scores purporting to grade voters’ past turnout records:

When the mailer was brought to Pate’s attention, he released a statement saying that it “misrepresents the role of my office, and worse, misrepresents Iowa election law,” adding, “Accusing citizens of Iowa of a ‘voting violation’ based on Iowa Caucus participation, or lack thereof, is false representation of an official act. There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting. Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong and I believe it is not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses.”

The mailer got lots of media attention, including a response from the state chairman for the Cruz campaign, Matt Schultz: “These mailers are common practice to increase voter turnout. Our mailer was modeled after the very successful 2014 mailers that the Republican Party of Iowa distributed to motivate Republican voters to vote, and which helped elect numerous Republican candidates during that cycle.”

However, what most reports glossed over is that Matt Schultz, who served as secretary of state immediately before Pate, spent a large part of his time in that position attempting to purge voter rolls, spending $280,000 in federal Help America Vote Act funds on a two-year Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation probe of potential voter fraud. The probe continued despite an ACLU of Iowa lawsuit that led to a temporary injunction in September 2012 from a district court judge, who scolded Schultz for starting the investigation so close to an election and risking disenfranchising legitimate voters.

Eventually, the DCI claimed to find 117 instances of illegal voting, although many of the cases were dropped due to lack of evidence of intent — before Gov. Terry Branstad took office and, with Schultz’s support, changed voting laws to make Iowa one of the only states to not automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons, many of the allegedly fraudulent votes would have been legal. Even if all cases had been prosecuted successfully, they would still have amounted to a minuscule fraction of total votes cast in the state.

When Schultz was carrying out his crusade against voter fraud, he claimed it would “send a message to Iowa’s voters that their voting privilege is sacred and will not be compromised.” Now, for Ted Cruz, Schultz is actively defending a purposefully misleading mailer that, as Pate pointed out in his statement, falsely suggests that the office Schultz himself formerly headed keeps caucus participation records (the caucuses are run by the state parties, not the secretary of state’s office). And, as Pate mentioned, voter records the state does manage are not routinely distributed but rather “available for purchase for political purposes only, under Iowa Code.”

Below the headline, the Cruz mailer reads: “Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.”

During his tenure as secretary of state, Schultz also unsuccessfully pushed for a state voter ID law, which Pate also supports, despite a lack of any evidence of widespread voter fraud in Iowa or any other state. Such laws, which are often pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, are often seen as an effort to disenfranchise voters who typically vote for Democrats.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.