As noncitizens cast ballots, ‘Motor Voter’ law needs reform

Published On: August 30th, 2023

By: Washington Examiner Editorial Board

Illegal immigrants and other noncitizens should not be voting in U.S. elections . Alas, too many do.

When Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana led Republican opposition to what was nicknamed the “Motor Voter” bill in 1993, he dubbed it “Auto Fraudo.” Thirty years to the week after President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law, it seems an apt monicker, according to a May 23 report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation.

As PILF rightly argued, the Motor Voter law needs to be modified and updated. Its guarantees for greater transparency should be kept or even strengthened, and its loopholes allowing fraud should be closed.

The new report, the most recent in a series of PILF studies from across the country, showed that in the past 20 years in Chicago, 394 noncitizens were registered to vote despite properly telling election officials they were not citizens. Of those, 20 cast a total of 85 ballots in real elections. The average length of time that noncitizens stayed on the voter rolls before errors were caught was 7 1/2 years. One noncitizen was on the rolls for 30 years!

It’s bad enough for these incidences to occur, but the numbers must substantially understate the problem. The report covers only those noncitizens who self-reported their status but were registered against Illinois law and arguably against the U.S. Constitution. Incentives weigh overwhelmingly against self-reporting, so it stands to reason that many multiples of the reported numbers are on Chicago’s voter rolls.

This is not a problem unique to Chicago. PILF reported that Maricopa County, Arizona, has had 222 foreign nationals on voter rolls; Fairfax County, Virginia, 1,334; San Diego County 264; and there were 1,290 more in 10 other counties where records were examined. In Virginia overall, 5,556 noncitizens were removed from voter rolls, but only after 7,474 votes were cast illegally. These numbers are only a sampling, as PILF must do painstaking public information requests jurisdiction by jurisdiction — and its reports cover only the instances where the erroneous registrations and votes eventually, mercifully, were discovered and fixed by state officials.

As PILF’s Chicago report noted, Motor Voter is largely to blame. Among its provisions aimed at making voter registration easier, the one that provided the bill’s nickname was provided that people getting driver’s licenses be registered to vote at the same time. Yet lots of noncitizens get licenses. Sometimes they don’t make it clear that they are not citizens. Sometimes registration officials fail to record it even when a foreign national properly notes it.

As PILF noted, “States that automate Motor Voter, not giving the immigrant the chance to decline registration during their DMV transactions, exacerbate the problem.” If a computer algorithm is set to put all newly licensed names and addresses on a voter list, foreign citizens appear to be eligible to cast ballots.

The situation is worse in the 18 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, that give driver’s licenses even to illegalimmigrants. Many legal immigrants want clean records in the hope of becoming citizens, so they sometimes self-report. But illegal immigrants don’t want to draw attention to their status, so almost none self-report when mistakenly put on the voter lists.

Finally, although PILF does notlist this among its complaints — the 2002 Help America Vote Act helps mitigate the problem — Motor Voter conceivably could exacerbate the problem because its provisions for registering to vote by mail include this prohibition : Mailed voter registration application forms “may not include any requirement for notarization or other formal authentication.”

So if a noncitizen registers by mail rather than in person, the application form is not even allowed to ask him or her to prove that the information he provides is correct. Then if the noncitizen also votes by mail rather than in person, he or she still never is forced to prove his or her identification.

Even if, in practice, this clause hasn’t been widely abused, it couldlead to error or outright deceit.

Auto fraudo, indeed.

Public Interest Legal Foundation