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State may check citizenship but no voter purge in offing

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on July 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm | No Comments »
July 26, 2012 2:03 pm

Updated: Secretary of State Sam Reed’s elections staffers have finally been promised access to a federal immigration database that they asked Homeland Security for but were rebuffed – in 2005 and 2006. But now, whether Washington has the tools to actually use the data remains a big question at a time the question of citizenship checks is becoming a campaign issue in the election of Reed’s successor.

Kathleen Drew, an Olympia Democrat running in the seven-person field, has criticized Reed for not funding a print-edition of his primary voter guide.

Last week she criticized his request to get access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (or SAVE) program’s database. The system is typically used to verify immigration status for the purposes of determining eligibility for public-paid benefits.

In a news release, Drew said Reed should be paying for the voter guide “rather than using scarce resources to chase nonexistent fraud” by immigrants on voter rolls.

It’s worth noting that Drew is not alone in suggesting voting by noncitizens is a red herring. Most other candidates in the race, including Reed’s Republican friend Kim Wyman, also think voter fraud by immigrants is not a problem in Washington.

I put in queries about the new data source to the state elections office late Friday. After a follow-up email today, I got answers about what is going on from state elections co-director Shane Hamlin.

“There is no chance we will use screen the federal data against the voter rolls before the Primary [Aug. 7], and very little chance we will do so before the General Election [Nov. 6] ,” Hamlin wrote back. “It’s just too early to tell, given that we a number of critical questions to research.” Hamlin added that the state’s requests for the database go back to 2005 and 2006 and Homeland Security rejected them.

Updated: Access was promised to state election officials granted only after Florida won a court case on the matter and – now – the state’s lack of access to alien ID numbers might make the data useless:

We do not yet know how useful the data will be; we haven’t seen any data yet. We are still reviewing the materials Homeland Security provided that explain the SAVE program and how we can use it. From the materials we’ve received, it does appear that we need an alien ID number when submitting a verification request to the SAVE program. Presently, I am not sure how we will get access to … alien ID numbers. This underscores the point that we are still determining how or if we can access the SAVE program. We also do not know how up to date (accurate) the SAVE data will be. If the data isn’t accurate, it won’t be useful to us. Given all of this, no names have been removed.

So it appears Drew jumped the gun a bit with her claims. Here is her news release:

I am deeply concerned and disappointed that Secretary of State Sam Reed is following the lead of Florida Governor Rick Scott by challenging voters’ rights just before an election. According to news reports, Reed has requested access to a federal database that checks immigration status for public benefit eligibility. It can be used to remove names from the voter rolls. Even his staff acknowledged there is no evidence that ineligible voters have registered to vote in Washington.
The fact is there is little evidence that non-U.S. citizens ever register to vote or vote in our elections. The consequences for a non-citizen of pretending to be citizen and casting a vote are extremely serious. Foreign nationals could lose their right to live and work in the United States and could be deported. They would also become permanently ineligible to ever file for US citizenship with no possibility of a waiver.
In these tough budget times, the Secretary of State should fund basic voter information for all by printing the primary voters guide rather than using scarce resources to chase nonexistent fraud.

The news report Drew cites is here. In his longer response to Drew’s charges, Hamlin said:

Noncitizens on the voter rolls and access to federal databases Even without evidence that noncitizens are voting in Washington, it is our office’s duty under state and federal law to take steps to ensure the voter rolls are up-to-date and include only eligible voters.
As such, we follow routine procedures to remove ineligible registrations from the rolls and ensure the rolls are accurate. For example, we screen for felons and deceased voters and have compared our voter rolls against other states’ rolls to identify people who have moved out of state and are no longer voting here.
When it comes to screening the rolls for noncitizens, we lack credible information. Our office first requested access to federal databases, including the SAVE database, as far back as 2005. Access has been denied several times.
Sam is not following Rick Scott. Rather, he supported Colorado’s effort to work with the Department of Homeland Security to access databases on noncitizens that may help us. Washington is not Florida and we will not attempt to remove voters from the rolls in the same manner Florida did.
We have not seen the federal data yet, so we don’t know how useful it will be; therefore, we don’t know, at this time, what steps we will take once we have the data. We are reviewing the materials Homeland Security provided that explain the SAVE database and how we may access it.
Any action taken on the federal noncitizen data will be in compliance with state and federal laws that protect against discriminatory “purges.”

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: David Ammons, spokesman for Reed’s office, said in an email that the elections agency actually has no database in hand. He also said that the SAVE data is “not a database per se” that would be handed over for an en masse check of the state’s voter database. Rather, it is something that would be checked on a case-by-case basis.

But, as Hamlin had noted, Ammons said it does not appear the state Department of Licensing has the alien identification codes. That is because Washington does not require proof of citizenship or legal immigration status in order to get a driver license.

 

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