As the former immigration director in Fresno for 27 years, I investigated noncitizen voting and studied the law relating to it. Everything Joe Mathews said in the Aug. 3 column relating to noncitizen voting is true. Aliens can vote in non-federal elections if a state or local government allows this. The problem, however, is with what he failed to say.
Noncitizen voting in California would have many unintended consequences. For example, he doesn’t explain how California would then prevent these noncitizens from voting in federal elections. The following are probable consequences from noncitizen voting:
- The federal government would have a good excuse to demand that all voters show identification when voting in a federal election (any time a candidate for Congress, the Senate, or the Presidency is on the ballot). Noncitizen voting would be a good reason for the courts to uphold such a request.
- In 1996, Congress made it a crime for an alien to vote in a federal election. This could result in deportation, even for legal aliens with green cards. It also required any state or local government to provide a means of voting only in the local election, if noncitizens can vote.
- We already have hundreds of legal aliens voting in federal elections. This usually happens because a well-meaning school teacher takes 18-year-old boys to register for the selective service, and then takes them to register to vote. The boys are wrongly told that if they can be drafted, they should be able to vote. Even more common are citizen husbands thinking their alien wives can vote. The wife usually objects, but the husband insists. These legal aliens are now deportable.
Evidence of illegal voting often comes to the government’s attention when legal aliens apply for naturalization. Since 1996, there has been a question about voting. Honest applicants for citizenship admit to the voting and find themselves in trouble. These aliens are rarely deported, but the naturalization application is often denied.
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In 1992, Fresno County asked me to help investigate voting by aliens in a Parlier election for mayor. More than 30 legal residents had been told they could legally vote, and were signed up to register by mail.
The example of Chicago was related to them. The culprit was a candidate for mayor who stupidly had the ballots mailed to his home address. He voted for each person and forged a signature, then mailed in the ballot. No action was taken against the aliens, since they hadn’t really voted, but they would have, had the ballots been sent to their addresses.
If California adopted noncitizen voting, how would these noncitizens be prevented from voting in a federal election? The registered voter list could label each such voter as a noncitizen, but I doubt California lawmakers would approve. Besides, this alone would not prevent many illegal votes because poll watchers either accidentally, or on purpose, failed to stop the person from voting. This inaction could make such a voter deportable.
Another question – who would be responsible for making decisions, the state or the county? Obviously, the county would take on this burden and expense, probably with no funding from Sacramento to cover the extra costs.
During my 39 years working for immigration, I saw hundreds of cases of alien voting. Almost all involved legal aliens, not illegal aliens. None intended to do anything wrong. They had incorrectly been told they could vote. I don’t believe the claims of thousands, or even millions, of illegal aliens voting in American elections.
Personally, I am not opposed to legal aliens voting in non-federal elections. However, the unintended consequences of noncitizen voting outweigh the benefits.
As the former director of immigration in Fresno for 27 years, I saw many cases of non-citizen voting and am familiar with the consequences.
Don Riding resides in Fresno. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.