Election Watchdog: New Jersey Voter Rolls a ‘Pretty Wild Mess’

More than 600 noncitizens found to be registered in the Garden State despite warning signs

by Margaret Menge | Updated 12 Sep 2017 at 1:37 PM

Voting records from New Jersey show that 616 noncitizens were registered to vote in 11 different counties, and that many of them had said upfront they were noncitizens — but were registered anyway.

“It’s a pretty wild mess that we’re seeing here,” said Logan Churchwell, spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which sent out letters earlier this year asking all counties in New Jersey for information on voters who were found not to have met the citizenship requirement.

Some counties, such as Hudson County, which sits just across the river from New York City in northern New Jersey, with Jersey City as its county seat, responded it had no such records.

Other counties responded with many pages of files, and what those files show is almost incredible.

Here's an example: An immigrant named Kiran Shah gets a sample ballot in the mail a few days before the Oct. 16, 2013, special election for U.S. Senate. He doesn't remember registering to vote and doesn't think he did. On election day, he walks to the precinct, shows the sample ballot to three different election workers, tells them that he is not a citizen, and all three tell him that because he got the sample ballot, he should vote. So he does.

Shah subsequently talked with the deputy superintendent of elections, and then wrote a letter, asking that his name be removed from the voter roll. In his letter, he wrote: "I have not ever requested to register to vote. I received [an] "official sample ballot" in my name by mail. So I went to E. Ruthersford civic center at Vreeland Ave. on oct. [sic] 16 afternoon by walk to inquire about this. I told to three staff member that I am not U.S. citizen but have received this letter. I was told by them that I should vote. I thought that it might be compulsory to vote here in US, so I voted there. Now I request herewith to remove/cancel my name from the list."

What happened?

Records show that Shah, like many others who were later found to be noncitizens, registered to vote at a Department of Motor Vehicles, known in New Jersey as a Motor Vehicle Commission office. He may not remember it, because all who walk in the door of a Motor Vehicle Commission office in New Jersey, if they're doing anything more than looking for the bathroom, must be given a voter registration form, according to the state's strict interpretation of the 1993 "Motor Voter" law, which requires all states to accept voter registrations on a postcard-sized form, and requires them to make these available at motor vehicle offices, at public schools, libraries, and other public places.

"Most of the time, the noncitizens were put in the system after saying they were not a citizen and saying, 'Here is my green card,'" said Churchwell.

And — shockingly — even if the person checked on the form that he was not a citizen, he was still registered to vote in many cases.

In 9 percent of the cases, the noncitizens voted in at least one election.

Most of the noncitizens on the voter rolls were only discovered because the person was trying to become a U.S. citizen, and an immigration officer checked and saw that he had voted. In some cases, these people were then subject to deportation. In other cases, they became citizens anyway.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, in its request for records, asked to see all communication between the elections office and law enforcement. In none of the thousands of pages received was there any indication that anyone was ever prosecuted for registering to vote as a noncitizen or for actually voting illegally.

The closest thing PILF saw was a letter from a supervisor of elections notifying a person that he had voted illegally and needed to keep the notice being sent to him because he may have to answer for it one day.

The 616 noncitizen voters may just be the tip of the iceberg, as it represents only the noncitizens on the voter roll who happened to be flagged because someone was trying to become a citizen, or, in the case of Kiran Shah, an immigrant was particularly conscientious.

The voter registration system in the U.S. is not set up to look for fraud, and no proof of citizenship is required to register to vote. It's an "honor system." The federal form asks for a Social Security number and a driver's license number, but if a person has neither of these, both of these lines can be left blank and the person will still, in most cases, be registered to vote.

One of the problems with this system, says Churchwell, is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The Motor Voter law was written before DACA, when just about all of the people coming in the door at a motor vehicle office were citizens. Now, with illegal aliens able to get driver's licenses in 12 states plus the District of Columbia, and with 800,000 in the DACA program having Social Security numbers even though they are not citizens, everything is different.

Motor Voter has to be fixed, according to the Public Interest Legal Foundation, whose president and general counsel, J. Christian Adams, is a member of President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission.

That commission meets Tuesday in New Hampshire, where it will review PILF's new revelation that 616 noncitizens were found to have been registered to vote in New Jersey, and also the New Hampshire Republican Party's study that showed that more than 5,500 who voted in the New Hampshire general election in 2016 using out-of-state driver's licenses never subsequently registered a car in the state or got in-state driver's licenses.

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte was defeated by Democrat Maggie Hassan in that election by just 1,017 votes.

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