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Secretary of state wants legal residency proof for driver-licenses; cannot use feds’ immigration data base to check status of voters

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Sep. 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
September 12, 2012 1:06 pm

Secretary of State Sam Reed said this week that he wants state lawmakers to pass a driver licensing law next year that requires proof of legal residency in Washington, one of two states that do not require such evidence before getting a license.

As I reported in July, Reed’s office was unsure it could tap into a federal immigration database was that can verify an alien’s legal right to be in teh country, and Reed’s office now says it definitely can’t make use of the data.

At the same time he is calling for driver-license reform, Reed says he is looking for balance and would not seek to use the immigration data for a “purge” of voter rolls.

“I have stated repeatedly that it has never been our intention to, quote, `purge’ voter rolls in any discriminatory or insensitive way, or to suppress voting in any way,” Reed said in a statement released by his office. “That is not the way we operate in this state, which was and continues to be settled by immigrants. But we do have a strong and continuing commitment to keeping our voter rolls updated and accurate, so that only qualified citizens are allowed to vote. We have made major strides in recent years in regularly reviewing our rolls to make sure we do not have duplicate registrations or incarcerated felons or deceased people still on the roll.”

An email from Reed’s spokesman, David Ammons, also has comments attributed to Shane Hamlin, state co-director of elections. Hamlin said that without asking for proof of legal presence in the U.S. before issuing a driver’s license, Washington is unable to gain access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program.

That database helps confirm legal status and has been created to check an immigrant’s eligibility for social and health benefits.

Reed told The Olympian earlier in the summer that he supported an immigration-status provision for driver licenses last year but did not testify. But as he prepares to leave office next January, he is speaking out.

Reed says his motto is “trust, but verify” and he thinks a driver license reform would provide another layer of insurance against fraud. That said, his office hasn’t produced evidence there is a problem with illegal immigrants voting.

But that has not stopped the issue from becoming a part of the evolving state and national political story over illegal immigration and how it might affect voting.

Democrat Kathleen Drew, who is running for Reed’s soon-to-be-vacant seat, put out a news release in July that assailed Reed’s office for trying to make use of the data base to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, and Republican candidate Kim Wyman has also said she hasn’t seen there is a problem.

“I’m not that familiar with the state database. But you have to have the number of the person connected to the database, which the state doesn’t have. It’s really quite useless,’’ Wyman said.

But Wyman also said in response to questions about Pennsylvania’s voter ID law – which Democrats fear will dampen voter turnout by their supporters – that she thinks Washington is providing a good balance in its system and is making sure that those on either end of the political spectrum believe that election results are fair.

To that end, Wyman said county auditors in Washington now ask for an ID card or the last four digits of a Social Security number when registering a voter.

“I think you have to be very careful about how you move forward,’’ she added, describing voter identification as an issue with partisan markings.

“The Democrats talk about access and the Republicans talk about voter fraud. Both are driven by political agendas…” Wyman said. “The place that it would make sense to start looking is driver licensing. We are one of two states that doesn’t require proof of residency.’’

At the same time, Wyman said she has heard from farmers in Eastern Washington who employ people from abroad that they’d rather see immigrants licensed than not.

 

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