Could illegal voting decide the next presidential election? Steps are being taken by the Justice Department that may help guarantee it.
On Thursday, T. Christian Herren Jr., head of the voting section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner warning him to cease efforts the state was making to validate its voter rolls. Specifically, Justice said it was concerned that the Sunshine State's efforts to clean up the registration lists would violate provisions of the 1973 Voting Rights Act and that the state's actions would have a discriminatory effect. The law covers five Florida counties in which there had been historical cases of voter discrimination.
Florida immediately fired back. "We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot," a spokesman for Mr. Detzner said. "We are not going to give up our efforts to make sure the voter rolls are accurate."
Critics point to the fact that of the 2,700 non-citizens the effort has uncovered thus far, 58 percent appear to be Hispanic. This, they argue, is evidence of the type of discriminatory impact that brings Florida's efforts under the purview of the Justice Department. This misreads the intent of the law. The 1973 Voting Rights Act was never meant to apply to illegal aliens, and the fact that the majority of unlawfully registered noncitizens are Hispanic tracks with the fact that most of the illegals in Florida are Hispanic. Furthermore, the unlawfully registered aliens have been casting votes. Of the 1,600 registered illegals in Miami-Dade County thus far identified, around two-thirds have actually cast ballots. This is troubling for an extra reason: Illegal-voter participation is much higher than the general public's.
Illegal or erroneous voter registration is a national problem. A study by the Pew Center on the States, released in February, found 24 million flawed voter registrations nationwide, or one in eight registrations. These include inaccurate or duplicate records, people registered in two or more states and almost 2 million voters who are on the books even though they are deceased. The number of bad registrations is daunting; 24 million is larger than the winning margins of the last five presidential races combined. If the 2012 race is close, the potential impact of fraudulent votes is magnified. The Florida case is especially illustrative. In the contested 2000 vote count, George W. Bush won the state and thus the presidency by just 537 votes. Two weeks ago, Florida found and removed 53,000 dead people from its voter lists.
The Justice Department's attentions are misplaced. Guaranteeing the legitimacy and legality of elections is a compelling interest of the states, and a power explicitly granted them by the Constitution. In effect, the nation's chief law-enforcement agency is ignoring the massive problem that Florida has uncovered in favor of focusing on imagined discrimination as the state seeks to rectify it. The fact that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s department is seeking to prevent the purge of Hispanic illegal voters, who can be counted on to vote mostly for Barack Obama, gives the whole affair an awful whiff of dirty politics.
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