UPDATE: Arcan Cetin still faces murder charges in the death of five shooting victims at a Washington State mall last weekend, but new evidence suggests he did not commit voter fraud.
Based on a local TV news report citing anonymous Immigration and Customs Enforcement sources who said Cetin was a legal resident but not yet a citizen, the group True the Vote raised questions about records showing that he registered to vote in 2014 and cast ballots in three elections.
But KING 5 in Seattle has reported that ICE now says Cetin is a U.S. citizen, having naturalized after coming to America from Turkey.
The TV news report offers no explanation for the original mixup, but an expert at the Center for Immigration Studies said the confusion likely arose from a provision in U.S. law that allow minor children to automatically gain citizenship when a parent become naturalized. That information is not always reflected in ICE records.
True the Vote spokesman Logan Churchwell, whose organization raised questions about Cetin’s voting record after local and federal law enforcement officials had declared him a noncitizen, said the confusion only reinforces the need for reforms to America’s voter registration system. New voters sign a form swearing that they are eligible to vote but there is no government verification.
“We’re still operating on the honor system,” he said. “How can we continue to maintain a voter registration system when law enforcement, who know better who have the documentation, can’t even rely on their own records. We need safeguards in place.”
A Turkish immigrant accused of shooting up a mall in Washington State on Sept. 24 registered to vote despite not being a citizen and participated in at least three elections, according to a national ballot-integrity organization.
Police have charged Arcan Cetin, 20, with five counts of first-degree premeditated murder in connection with a shooting that left five people dead at the Cascade Mall in Burlington.
“It’s pretty clear-cut. He registered to vote. He voted twice in general elections.”
True the Vote searched records in Cetin’s home county and found only one Arcan Cetin on the voter registration rolls and matched it to his date of birth. That, combined with unnamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement sources telling local media that the defendant was on a citizenship track, indicates that he was illegally registered.
“It’s pretty clear-cut,” said Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the group. “He registered to vote. He voted twice in general elections.”
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said it is possible that Cetin could be a citizen. Under U.S. immigration law, a minor child automatically becomes a citizen when a parent is naturalized. She said ICE records do not alway reflect that, however.
“It causes problems in other parts of the immigration system,” she said.
If Cetin has not yet obtained citizenship, however, it is beyond doubt that he was not permitted to vote. Records show that he registered to vote in 2014, in time to cast a ballot in the midterm election that November. Churchwell said Cetin also voted in a local election the following year and then again during the state’s presidential primary earlier this year. It is impossible to determine whether Cetin voted in the Republican or Democratic primary, but Churchwell said his Twitter feed from last year suggested that he was a Hillary Clinton supporter.
True the Vote has sent letters to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission alerting them of its findings. Churchwell said the penalty for illegal voting, a fine and up to a one-year jail sentence, obviously pales in comparison to the punishment Cetin faces in the murder case. But he said it illustrates vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system.
Under current law, a new voter must swear on the voter registration form under penalty of perjury that he or she is a citizen and eligible to vote. But Churchwell said there is no mechanism for verifying that information.
“That is the only thing that stands between a citizen and non-citizen from registering to vote,” he said.
From time to time, some states have attempted to add safeguards to ensure that only eligible voters are participating in their elections, but they have met stiff resistance from the Justice Department, left-leaning courts, and liberal private advocacy groups. A federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas could not demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote.
During the 2012 election cycle, Colorado and Florida initially received permission to use federal immigration records to cross-reference the data with voter registration rolls to remove ineligible voters. But the Department of Homeland Security later objected to that, too, on grounds that the records were not reliable.
Churchwell said the result is that states effectively cannot prevent non-citizens from registered to vote on the front end or clean up the rolls after the fact.
“Every time a state has tried to be proactive … they’ve been sued, and those requirements have been held up in the courts,” he said. “It’s an honor system. Anyone who tries to enforce it gets shot down by the DOJ.”
Churchwell said there is no way to determine how widespread ineligible voting is, but he said anecdotes are common enough to suggest they are not isolated cases. He said True the Vote discovered Cetin’s registration because it routinely investigates the possible voting history of any non-citizen involved in a high-profile news story.
“This is the bigger story: We would have never, ever known to look for this person if he had not committed this crime,” he said.