Minnite on Non-Citizen Voting

Responding to Hans von Spakosky’s recent thoughts on non-citizen voting, Lori Minnite writes the following (excerpted with her permission):

Mr. von Spakovsky’s major claims that tens of thousands of non-citizens are registered to vote and that laws prohibiting non-citizen voting are ignored and undermined by government officials are not supported by his evidence or any other. For an alternative analysis of the Dornan-Sanchez dispute, see my report, An Analysis of Voter Fraud in the U.S. (a longer version will be offered in my forthcoming book).
Voter fraud is a crime. Intent distinguishes crime from mistakes whether in this case they are made by the voter or by government officials. This is an important legal principle flouted by voter fraud propagandists like Mr. Von Spakovsky. Instead of persuasively arguing his positions, he simple mocks the lack of evidence to support claims that American elections are being corrupted by criminal voter fraud or rampant criminal voting by non-citizens. Prosecutors bring cases when the alleged fraud threatens the outcome of an election. This is the general standard recognized by the courts. It may be a high bar, but it is an appropriate one in my view because elections should be decided by voters, not judges. Given the uses of propaganda in elections, and the highly effective use of voter fraud claims by election losers who want another shot at victory, it’s not surprising that the legal system does not encourage the resolution of every election dispute in the courtroom. In fact, it’s a good thing.
As for enforcement and effort, the American tax payer spent well over a $1 million on the Dornan-Sanchez investigation (not counting the extra cost to California tax payers for numerous state and local investigations). The minority on the task force assigned to investigate Dornan’s charge that illegal non-citizen voters stole the election for Sanchez called the majority’s statement that “624 persons registered when they were not citizens” a “gross mischaracterization.” The House Oversight subcommittee to whom the task force reported, a subcommittee dominated by Republicans, voted 8-1 to dismiss Dornan’s contest, and the full House agreed. Remember, this was 1998, when the Republicans were in power in the House and partisanship was running high.
The California Secretary of State Bill Jones, another Republican, declined to seek prosecution of any alleged illegal non-citizen voter, deciding that the people in question had registered in error and not from criminal intent. Von Spakovsky claims the INS refused Jones’ request to match the Orange County voter registration file against their records and “no complete check of all of the individuals who voted in the congressional race was ever made.” This is a distortion of the facts. Privacy laws in place at the time prohibited the sharing of individual data between federal agencies, except under extraordinary circumstances. Dornan subpoenaed INS records and the Justice Department, citing the Privacy Act of 1974 filed motions to quash these subpoenas. To get around the limitations on data sharing, the House task force subpoenaed the INS data, exercising an exemption in the Privacy Act “for either House of Congress” which allowed the task force to perform its own analysis of the INS data. The INS warned Dornan and Congress that “INS databases are not organized for this purpose [to prove citizenship status] and there are inherent limitations on their use to match against lists of registered voters.” INS officials later told Congress that there was more than a 50 percent error rate in its computerized files, meaning more than half of the people whose records lacked naturalization dates in INS databases were likely citizens.
While the congressional investigation dragged on for fourteen months, the Orange County Registrar of Voters completed her own review of Dornan’s allegations within just two months of the election. Her report which reviewed registration and voting records administered by her office concluded that most of Dornan’s claims were unsubstantiated and based on sloppy data gathering methods.
The mistakes cited by Jones in dismissing criminal prosecution were committed when people being assisted in the citizenship process by an INS-sponsored community group, having completed their paperwork, interviews and tests, received letters from the INS congratulating them on becoming citizens. The organization made some mistakes in collecting voter registration applications from these people after they received their letters but before they took their oaths of citizenship. An immigrant seeking naturalization is not considered a citizen until he or she takes an oath at a citizenship ceremony. The congressional task force’s dispute over the numbers stems from the fact that many of these alleged non-citizen voters actually completed the process, including the oath and were in fact citizens when they cast ballots later in the year. Von Spakovsky conveniently leaves these facts out of his story.
Having won the battle over voter ID, at least for now, conservative propagandists are moving on to the next frontier: proof of citizenship to register and vote as a means of restricting access to the ballot. They have to work hard to overcome the ludicrous notion that undocumented immigrants are intentionally risking criminal felony charges and deportation to do something nearly half of the rest of the adult citizen population in the U.S. can’t be bothered to do – register and vote. With nativism running high, they may well succeed.

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