WATERLOO | Several people briefly protested outside a Black Hawk County courtroom Thursday as seven of the eight people charged last month with election misconduct had their initial appearances before District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan.
The Waterloo residents are accused of casting ballots in the 2012 general election while being felons who have not had their voting rights restored.
The Black Hawk County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized the protest in the lobby outside the first-floor courtroom. A group of supporters from the NAACP also sat in the courtroom during the proceedings.
Protesters silently held signs that read “No taxation without representation,” “Stop voter bullying” and “This is not the Jim Crow era.”
One of the protesters, the Rev. Belinda Creighton-Smith, said court officials told them they couldn’t have the signs in the lobby area about 40 minutes into the hearing. At that point, she and the other protesters came into the courtroom to watch the proceedings. All together, 10 people sat in the hearing to support the accused.
“I think it’s a ridiculous day when we are wasting taxpayer dollars to go through this process,” said Sharina Sallis, one of the supporters. “It’s just a shame on the district attorney that he felt he had to go through this and (Iowa Secretary of State Matt) Schultz, as well.” Tom Ferguson is the Black Hawk County attorney.
Schultz has pursued voter fraud issues during his tenure, using federal funds to hire agents from the state Division of Criminal Investigation who examine potential cases. Critics say there is little voter fraud in the state and contend the money is being spent improperly.
Charges of first degree election misconduct, a Class D felony, were filed Jan. 13 against the eight people. Cases were referred by the commissioner of elections to the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office, which helped determine if charges were warranted.
“This is an act of gross injustice,” said Creighton-Smith, calling the charges voter suppression and bullying. The Faith Temple Baptist Church pastor said several members of her congregation arrested in the past but never convicted of a felony have been told they can’t vote because of their criminal record.
“African-Americans are 13 times more likely to be denied the right to vote,” she said.
While the NAACP members attended the hearing to support “everyone that was there for voter fraud,” Creighton-Smith was familiar with the backgrounds of Rosa Lee Wilder, 49, Robert Earl Anthony, 56, and Ricco Terrell Cooper, 39 -- three black people who were charged.
She said Wilder went through a process to restore her voting rights and was sent a letter shortly before the November 2012 election saying they had been restored. “We celebrated all the way to the polls and celebrated all the way home,” said Creighton-Smith.
Anthony and Cooper had gotten paperwork to restore their voting rights, she said, and “are working, paying taxes.” Iowans convicted of a felony have to fill out paperwork to request that the governor restore their voting rights. Gov. Terry Branstad issued an executive order in January 2011 rescinding an earlier established process to restore voting rights to felons.
Creighton-Smith called the current practice “archaic” and said it “needs to be changed.” “Once you went to prison and you’re out, you should be allowed to vote,” she added. “How many times do you have to be punished?”
Others charged with election misconduct who were at the hearing included Harold Redd Jr., 48; Michelle Lee Bruno, 39; Glenn Alan Tank, 42; and Philip Michael Thomas, 29. The eighth person charged, 25-year-old Anthony Michael Greer, did not have his initial appearance Thursday.