A noncitizen identified in a new study as R. Picos registered to vote in 1998 in California’s San Diego County and then cast ballots in 10 different elections without raising a trifle of concern from officials.
Picos stayed on the voter registration list until 2013, when immigration officials informed San Diego officials that he was not a citizen, according to the report released Monday by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF). The voter integrity organization indicated that there is no evidence that authorities ever prosecuted Picos for illegally voting.
Picos is not alone.
PILF documented 3,120 instances in 13 “sanctuary” jurisdictions in which a noncitizen’s voter registration had been canceled. In most cases, voter registration officials remove the names only after the noncitizens voluntarily come forward.
The loopholes that allowed those noncitizens to register in the first place are not unique to sanctuary jurisdictions. J. Christian Adams, PILF’s founder, president and general counsel, said the 1993 National Voter Registration Act encourages noncitizens to vote.
Under the law, anyone who gets a driver’s license — including green card holders and, in some states, illegal immigrants — receives a prompt to register to vote. The 1993 act was known informally as the “Motor Voter” law.
“The motor voter system is a big magnet drawing aliens into the voter system,” he said. “It’s not necessarily deliberate.”
Even though the motor voter system creates noncitizen voters everywhere, Adams said, it is worse in sanctuary cities and counties because there are no consequences. He pointed to last week’s announcement that federal prosecutors in North Carolina had filed criminal charges against 20 people on charges related to noncitizen voting in elections.
Places where prosecutors are willing to file charges can impose a deterrent on illegal voting, Adams said.
“In sanctuary locations, there is zero chance for criminal prosecution once it happens … That’s the difference,” he said.
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at the low-immigration advocacy organization NumbersUSA, said the study reveals a troubling vulnerability in election integrity.
“Obviously, [I am] opposed to illegal aliens’ voting in any sort of elections, or legal immigrants for that matter,” he said.
Chmielenski said the country has made it easy to register out of a desire to encourage full participation by Americans in democracy.
“But we’ve made it so easy for people [from other countries] to become registered and removed those roadblocks,” he said.
Steve Salvi, who monitors sanctuary policies, counts about 525 cities, towns, counties and — in a few cases entire states — that have policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. He said he is not surprised to hear that noncitizens have found their way onto voter rolls.
Salvi, founder of the Ohio Jobs and Justice political action committee, said it undercuts the argument of progressives that voter fraud is a myth.
“Well, if you don’t look for it, you’re not gonna find it,” he said.
Records uncovered by PILF show that illegal voters ranged from a low of three in Ocean County, New Jersey, to a high of 1,334 in Virginia’s Fairfax County.
Adams said Congress could pass reforms to make it harder for noncitizens to vote. Local jurisdictions also could take steps administratively, he said. For instance, he said, driver’s license offices could ensure that people who present green cards to get licenses do not see prompts to register to vote.
“That’s like low-hanging fruit,” he said.
“When noncitizens vote, it hurts the system. Americans should be the only ones voting in American elections.”
Adams said counties should match voter registration rolls with records maintained under the REAL ID Act. He said Texas does a good job of regularly inspecting voter rolls to see if noncitizens are registered. He added that states should use federal records like the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database to search for noncitizens on the voter rolls.
Adams called on the Department of Homeland Security to make it easier for states and local jurisdictions to access records to spot ineligible voters.
He said that anytime a registered voter is flagged, it is important to investigate further to see if that person has become a naturalized U.S. citizen and, thus, is an eligible voter. But he added that it should not be difficult to build in safeguards to prevent legitimate voters from casting ballots.
The records PILF published on Monday indicate that voting officials sometimes do not apply even basic scrutiny to applications. In the case of Picos in San Diego County, the immigrant needed help completing his registration form. He left blank a question about his citizenship status.
Still, San Diego officials issued Picos a voter ID card.
Records PILF uncovered indicate that Picos was one of 51 noncitizens who remained on the rolls for more than a decade. It took an average of 5.9 years for noncitizen voters in San Diego County to be removed.
There is no indication that the noncitizen voters were part of an organized plot to influence elections. But Adams said that does not matter.
“You don’t need a conspiracy like these advocates often demand for it to have corrosive effects on our system,” he said. “When noncitizens vote, it hurts the system. Americans should be the only ones voting in American elections.”