Suppressing votes? Yep, and I'm for it
I heard two reactions to the news story that Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed had been granted access to a federal database that could be used to scrub noncitizens from voter rolls. One was that this was a good thing because noncitizens are not allowed to vote. That was my opinion, actually. The other was that it was bad because legitimate voters would be scrubbed by mistake. This view doubts there is a problem with illegal voters, doubts that the government could scrub the rolls accurately and suggests that the whole effort is by Republicans who want to suppress Democratic votes.
My response is that it's just as likely that the objection to checking for illegal voters is motivated by Democrats who don't want to lose illegal votes.
To the people who say there is no evidence of illegal voters, I say: How would you know? How would anyone know there is no problem if there is no way of looking for it? When you register to vote in Washington, you don’t have to prove your citizenship status. I had to prove my citizenship status when I was hired by The Seattle Times, 12 years ago. Why should I have to prove it to accept an offer of work but not to register to vote?
To those who say this is an effort to suppress votes, I reply: You bet. It’s an effort to suppress illegal votes. How many there are I don’t know. But I do remember an election for governor in which the winner and the loser were separated by only 129 votes. Small numbers matter.
That is my position on it. The import of the news, one way or the other, is not immediately decisive anyway. Shane Hamblin, co-director of elections under Sam Reed, told me that Washington was offered the federal database because Florida had sued the Department of Homeland Security for it, and won. It’s not a database of illegal immigrants —how would the government have one of those?—but of some 60 million foreign-born people, citizens and noncitizens, in the country legally. It is called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) list, and is used to check whether people are eligible for government benefits.
Hamblin said the state will not be able simply to run a list of all voters against the SAVE list. “We will have to submit one name at a time,” he said. So forget the mass "scrub." Furthermore, to match a person on the SAVE list, Reed’s office will have to have the person’s federal alien identification number.
“We don’t have that number,” Hamblin said.
Other states have those numbers because they require proof of legal residence before they issue drivers’ licenses, but Washington is one of two states that doesn’t require this. (We should change that, pronto.)
Hamblin said that getting access to the SAVE list “is the most progress we have made on this issue in seven years,” but that “we are still digesting that information and figuring out how we can use it." There is little chance, he said, that the list would be used in any electorally meaningful way before the presidential election in November.
So everyone can relax.
Still, keeping the voter rolls clear of noncitizens is an important task, and I hope Sam Reed's successor will pursue it.
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
Postman On Politics