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Iowa voter registration form legality questioned

Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 12:03 p.m. CST

DES MOINES (AP) — The attorney for one of a handful of Iowa residents charged for allegedly registering to vote when they weren’t U.S. citizens is focusing on a small technicality. Something too small, he argues.

David Richter said Thursday that under state law, Iowa’s voter registration form must have the same size and color of font throughout. But he argues that the text is smaller in the section of the form where residents are asked to sign their names to certify their U.S. citizenship.

“I had a font expert measure it and certify that they violated that section of the Iowa code,” the lawyer explained. “I believe the judge will find the form on its face is illegal.”

Richter is representing 51-year-old Albert Harte-Maxwell, who along with his wife, Linda, and another Pottawattamie County resident were charged in September with election misconduct and fraudulent practice.

The charges were filed amid Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s high-profile effort to fight what he says is a serious problem of voter fraud. The first-term Republican has hired an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent to look into the issue for two years at a cost of $280,000 in federal funds. So far, about a half dozen people have been charged.

Harte-Maxwell and his wife are Canadian and told investigators they mistakenly believed that, as legal U.S. residents, they could vote in every election except the presidential race. The other Pottawattamie County woman charged, 40-year-old Maria Ayon-Fernandez, said she first registered in California after becoming a lawful U.S. resident in the 1980s and switched her voter registration when she moved to Iowa.

Election misconduct is a felony in Iowa. Prosecutors must prove the voters intended to commit fraud by registering to vote knowing they were ineligible.

A judge has yet to rule on Richter’s argument, which Richter also explained during a hearing earlier this week.

Along with smaller print, Richter argues that the current voter registration form used by the Secretary of State’s Office contains a warning, in white text surrounded by a black background, that says submitting a false form is subject to penalty. Richter said the law requires that all text on the form be “identical,” and thus the same color.

If the judge rules in favor of Richter, it could weaken the cases against other noncitizens who have registered to vote using the form,

“I’d like to declare that form illegal statewide and that would take care of everybody in the whole state,” Richter said.

Schultz’s spokesman, Chad Olsen, said “we don’t have any comment until we see the judge’s ruling.”

Attorneys from the Pottawattamie County attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case against Harte-Maxwell, did not immediately return calls Thursday.

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