- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

Montgomery County, Md., election officials say they discover two or three cases each month in which legal immigrants have wrongfully registered to vote when they received their driver's licenses under the federal "motor voter" law.

Many of the cases involve immigrants who are confused by or misunderstand the law, apparently not realizing that qualifications for voting and driving privileges are different, officials said.

Most of those are discovered after a person is called for jury duty, whose lists of eligible jurors are based on voter rolls. The error is often revealed when the prospective jurors are asked directly in court if they are citizens.

"When you go to the MVA, you are there to get a license or plates, you aren't focused on anything else," said Montgomery County elections director Richard Goehler. "Standing in a long line, frustrated, tired it's an opportunity for something to go wrong."

Nonetheless, the penalties for such errors can be severe.

Authorities rejected an application for U.S. citizenship from one legal immigrant in Takoma Park when they discovered he had voted after registering himself when he received his driver's license.

Mr. Goehler said he does not know how that case was resolved, but said he told U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials he believes the man did it because he misunderstood the law.

The immigrant, who registered at a Motor Vehicles Administration (MVA) office, was probably further confused because he had voted in Takoma Park, which allows resident aliens to vote in city elections, Mr. Goehler said.

Laws to ensure that voters particularly ethnic or racial minorities are not intimidated virtually prohibit elections officials from challenging a person's citizenship.

Problems with noncitizens registering to vote in Texas prompted its Legislature to require the agency that issues driver's licenses to ask all applicants if they are citizens and mark their licenses accordingly.

Ann McGeehan, Texas' director of elections, said they hope the U.S. Department of Justice will approve their plan for indicating citizenship on driver's licenses so the state can implement it in January.

Other state agencies also have to navigate the channels of the federal "motor voter" law to offer voter registration applications to their clients.

The Justice Department now allows Texas social services workers to forgo offering voter registration when clients request public assistance but indicate on their application they are not U.S. citizens.

"Believe it or not, it took a while to get that cleared," Miss McGeehan said.

Meanwhile, many schools in the Washington area host student voter registration drives because 17-year-olds can register and can even vote in a primary election if they will be 18 by the date of the next general election.

David J. Kaplan, a technology teacher at Montgomery County's Springbrook High School expressed concern about letting students under 18 sign statements under penalty of perjury.

His questions prompted the Maryland Attorney General's Office to issue an opinion last year that minors would be subject to penalties for perjury for providing false information on voting applications.

"There are so many holes," Mr. Kaplan said. "[Because of voting disputes in Florida that will determine the outcome of the presidential election] they are looking at the integrity of the penthouse when the integrity of the foundation and basement are in question."

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