Illegals in California Could Decide Election
If you get a driver's license, you're registered to vote under new law that opens door to ineligible voters
As the 2016 election unfolds, states like Texas and California are pulling in the opposite directions, with the former defending efforts to prevent voter fraud and the latter enacting a law that critics contend makes it easier than ever for non-citizens to vote.
California this year is implementing a law signed by liberal Gov. Jerry Brown that automatically registers anyone who gets a driver’s license. Under the law, people will have to specifically opt out of voter registration. California joined Oregon, the only other state that automatically registered voters at driver’s license offices.
Proponents tout the law as an effort to boost voter participation and argue that the law contains safeguards to weed out immigrants and others who are ineligible to vote. Opponents are less sanguine, noting that the state allows even illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote (TTV), noted in an email that California is the only state not compliant with the Help America Vote Act’s requirement to maintain a centralized, statewide voter registration system.
“TTV has little faith in a state that has failed to establish a standard database of voters, let alone augment one that is capable of receiving real-time updates from a third-party without creating duplications or screening out ineligible records,” she wrote.
The concern goes far beyond California. Although voting rights advocates cite academic research indicating that verifiable cases of in-person voter fraud are close to nonexistent, Old Dominion University political science professor Jesse Richman told LifeZette that his research indicates that improper voting is more common than some people believe. He and a colleague in 2014 examined data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study — a large survey developed by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts — and estimated that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.
"It’s small, but there are enough that if it’s close enough, it could make a difference," he said.
Many states issue driver’s licenses to non-citizens, including some that give them even to illegal immigrants. Richman said some list citizenship status on the licenses, while others do not. The federal motor voter law makes it easy for non-citizens to register to vote, he said, adding that he believes some immigrants register and vote without realizing that it is prohibited.
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Texas, meanwhile, has taken the opposite position — and has run into a wall of opposition from liberal activists and the Obama administration. The state this week filed written arguments at the Supreme Court, which is considering whether to block it from enforcing its requirement that voters have photo identification at the polls while a lower court determines whether it violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
Voter ID laws have become one of the most contentious election issues, with proponents maintaining that it is a reasonable effort to prevent fraud and opponents arguing that it is an improper attempt by Republicans to suppress minority voters for electoral advantage. Texas is one of 33 states that require voters to show ID at the polls and one of 17 that require a photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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Texas in among nine states with "strict" photo ID laws, meaning that rejected voters can cast provisional ballots that only will be counted after Election Day if the voters later prove their identity.
Although characterized as a Republican-driven effort to block black and Latino voters, some deep blue states — like Rhode Island and Hawaii — also have photo ID laws. The laws have invited numerous court challenges, but few have succeeded.
"For the most part, they have been upheld, and the reason is they’re a requirement that states are perfectly within their rights to adopt," said Joseph Vanderhulst, an attorney with the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which intends to file a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Texas in the court case.
If requiring identification at the polls is unconstitutional, Vanderhulst said, so too is voter registration. All states but North Dakota require voters to register, he added.
"Voter registration, itself, is something people have to do," he said. "That’s something that tends to get forgotten in all this."