I am writing you as a concerned citizen regarding the recent announcement from The Department of Homeland Security stating that illegal aliens will no longer be deported simply due to their undocumented status. While DHS was careful to state that illegal’s who have committed some sort of crime (other than entering this country illegally) will be processed as usual, illegal aliens who are guilty of nothing more than just being here in the United States, will not be deported. With all this being said, I am very concerned over the possibility that illegal aliens may be able to cast ballots in the next general election cycle in 2012. I would like to ask you, as Washington State is a vote by mail state, how is the Office of Secretary of State going to ensure that only ballots from bonified US Citizens are counted and what safeguards are going to be in place at the locations where the Washington State ballots are going to be counted that would prevent the possibility of fraudulent ballots being counted?
Thank you for whatever information you could provide that would help ease the minds of the citizens of this state.
“Thank you for taking the time to contact Secretary Reed regarding your concerns about illegal aliens casting ballots. Secretary Reed asked me to respond to you on his behalf. In a vote by mail system like outs, a person only receives a ballot if he or she is registered to vote. As such, I think the root of your question is really about protecting the integrity of voter registration. Secretary Reed strongly believes that only eligible citizens should register to vote and participate in our elections. This idea is fundamental to protecting the integrity of our elections system and ensuring fair elections for all. Here are few points to keep in mind with regard to voter registration and citizenship:
- There is no list of citizens. The federal government nor any other agency does not maintain a list of citizens, so we cannot screen the list of voters against a list of citizens. If there was a list of citizens, then Washington likely would be confirming citizenship already.
- Only one state in the country, Arizona, requires proof of citizenship in order to register. Arizona has been requiring proof of citizenship in order to obtain a driver’s license since 1996. And even Arizona is required to accept federal voter registration forms, which do not require proof of citizenship.
- Regardless of whether a person registers using a paper application, using the online application, or at DOL, the application is the same, the questions are the same, the criteria for registering are the same.
- The first question on a voter registration application specifically asks, “I am a citizen of the United States of America,” and the person must affirmatively answer Yes or No. If the application is online or at DOL and the applicant answers “No” to that question, the application cannot go forward. If the answer on a paper application is no, the application is not processed.
- The voter registration application includes an oath, “I am a citizen of the United States,” which the person must sign.
- Providing false information on a voter registration application is a felony.
- The ballot declaration that a voter must sign when voting includes the oath, “I do solemnly swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that I am a citizen of the United States.” Signing a false declaration is a felony.
- If a person believes that a voter is not eligible to vote, he or she can file a voter registration challenge against that person to challenge their voter registration. Since voting is a civil right, the person filing the challenge has to prove that the registered voter is not eligible.
- Over the past few years, the Legislature has reviewed bills that require proof of citizenship in order to register. So far, the Legislature has not enacted such legislation because many people do not have a passport or a copy of their birth certificate and therefore would be unable to register to vote and exercise a fundamental civil right.
Although there is no list of citizens to compare against the voter rolls, Secretary Reed has sought access to federal databases that have information about legal aliens. Two requests were made to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2006 and both were denied. Additionally, Secretary Reed asked the Consulate General of Mexico for a list of all individuals living in Washington state that have been issued a Matricula Consular card. Citing privacy protections in the Geneva Convention, the Consul General informed the Secretary that he cannot fulfill the request.
I hope this information helps you understand the protections in place to prevent noncitizens from registering, and thus receiving a ballot. I also hope you have a better understanding of the challenges in screening the voter rolls for noncitizens who register to vote despite the oath and warning statements included in the registration process.
Co-Director of Elections
Office of the Secretary of State