Motor Voter Needs Modernization Now

The 30th anniversary of the National Voter Registration Act is upon us. You probably know the law as Motor Voter. Motor Voter is the federal mandate that requires state DMV offices to offer voter registration.

Sounds convenient, right? Yet now we have data showing one of the unintended consequences of Motor Voter is to invite foreigners onto the voter rolls.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, of which I am president, has been examining Motor Voter at 30, the good and the bad. We have examined government records involving Motor Voter mechanics and will be sharing a series of reports from around the country.

The first problem we have uncovered is that in Maricopa County in Arizona, Motor Voter registrations—those at motor vehicle offices—are the top culprit for putting aliens on the voter rolls. We know this because we have collected extensive records of foreign nationals asking to be removed from the voter rolls.

According to government election records, 222 foreign nationals were removed from the county voter registration list since 2015. One of these individuals was registered for 27 years. That’s 13 federal elections.

Some of the 222 foreigners on the voter rolls were also voting. Nine individuals are recorded casting 12 ballots across four federal elections.

Most media outlets don’t want you to hear these facts. They are too busy claiming there is nothing at all wrong with American elections. They are the move-along, nothing-to-see-here crowd on network television news, at the Washington Post, and propaganda factories like Slate.

Foreigners registering and voting happens far more often than anyone at these outlets would care to admit. They are in the business of hiding breakdowns in our election system, and smearing anyone who finds them as crazy election deniers.

It’s time for truth to matter again. The truth isn’t terribly complicated, either.

Most foreigners are registered to vote through Motor Voter. It is not always sinister. The process can be as simple as checking the wrong box or signing the wrong form handed to you by a state employee—sometimes in a different language.

Sometimes government election officials are to blame. We’ve seen it all in the data. In some states, if the question asking you if you are a United States citizen is left blank, election officials register you anyway. Across other states, we’ve collected staggering numbers of voter registration forms where the registrant plainly admits they aren’t an American citizen but the government still registers them to vote.

But for Motor Voter, that alien wouldn’t have even been offered a voter registration form.

The problem isn’t confined to Arizona. Pennsylvania officials admitted that due to a “glitch,” they had been accidentally registering foreign nationals to vote for two decades.

We have mostly collected the records of foreigners who admit they should be taken off the voter rolls. We can’t catalog the numbers of foreigners who never send those requests but remain on the voter rolls. Nobody can, because nobody has a single database of citizens or foreigners that can be used for election administration.

This much we can say for certain: There are many more foreign citizens on the voter rolls than we know about.

Virtually the only way election officials can discover the problem is when foreigners ask to be removed from the rolls on their own volition.

There are plenty of incentives against this happening. Many don’t even know they are ineligible to vote. After all, Motor Voter pushed them toward registration. Admitting they are registered to vote can also bring felony charges.

There is an incentive for aliens to seek removal from the voter rolls, and that’s why so many records of alien registration exist. Aliens create public records when they ask to be removed from the rolls. The naturalization process requires aliens to answer if they have been registered to vote. If they lie about this easily verifiable question, they scuttle their naturalization, potentially have committed another crime, and risk outright deportation. These cancel requests generate most of the paper trails about foreign nationals on the voter rolls.

While our groundbreaking research into this area is a good start, it is an inadequate fix. Sadly, the federal government—across administrations from both parties—have hidden or restricted immigration databases. States can’t effectively use all the data tools possible to prevent alien registration because the Department of Homeland Security has limited or prohibited states from accessing those tools for more than a decade.

That needs to change in a future administration.

So, how can we stop foreign nationals from getting on the voter roll in the meantime?

Congress can easily solve the problem by allowing states to validate citizenship effectively. This could be as easy as providing a passport, birth certificate, or naturalization certificate when registering to vote. It could also extend to states expanding post-registration citizenship verification.

Another straightforward fix is for Congress to add citizenship to the National Voter Registration Act’s reasonable list maintenance requirements for states. States would have an obligation to reasonably maintain voter rolls free from foreigners.

They would have to do something more than nothing to keep aliens off the rolls, unlike the status quo where a state needs to do nothing under federal law to prevent alien registration.

A decade ago, keeping foreigners off American voter rolls wouldn’t have been controversial. Any member of Congress opposed to reforms to Motor Voter to fix this problem should be ashamed. It’s long past time to get them on the record. Motor Voter at 30 is showing signs of wear and tear. It’s time to modernize it.

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About J. Christian Adams

J. Christian Adams serves as President and General Counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. He is also the founder of the Election Law Center, PLLC. He served from 2005 to 2010 in the Voting Section at the United States Department of Justice. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department which examines the Department’s election and voting rights record. He litigates election law cases throughout the United States and brought the first private party litigation resulting in the cleanup of corrupted voter rolls under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

Photo: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times