- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

When South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon recently ordered his state Department of Public Safety to "take whatever steps necessary to ensure that no illegal alien is issued a driver's license," he rightly identified the problem as a national security matter. To be sure, the crisis is real as many as four of the 19 September 11 terrorists possessed Virginia driver's licenses, enabling them to transact business, open bank accounts and even enter flight schools. Despite the fact that all the terrorists were illegal aliens, they participated in day-to-day American life with alarming ease.

Yet the fallout from September 11 in terms of U.S. immigration and state public-safety policies has landed squarely on another cornerstone of American representative government elections and voting. When federal lawmakers enacted so-called motor voter registration nationwide in the early 1990s, illegal aliens obtaining driver's licenses have become a measurable voting bloc in our elections.

In one close 1996 California congressional race, as many as 600 foreign nationals illegally cast votes, and the election was decided by less than 900 votes. As several aliens have testified before congressional election-reform committees in the wake of the November 2000 election debacle, voting has been a regular and easy task for them. In four states currently issuing driver's licenses to illegals including Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, apparently thousands of illegals have voted. This is more than a social outrage; it's legal chaos.

Part of the problem lies in the inability of various state government offices to identify illegal aliens and to share information once illegals are identified. In most states, there is little or no communication between public safety departments that issue driver's licenses and state election authorities charged with maintaining accurate voter lists, let alone with the U.S. Social Security Administration and Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Two principal voting restrictions allowed under the U.S. Constitution and federal law involve non-citizens and those who have been convicted of serious crimes. Some state procedures imposed after motor voter automatically register homeowners and drivers, including many non-citizens. At stake is the illegal dilution of citizen votes by non-citizens.

Another dozen states are considering whether to extend driver's licenses to illegals, even in the wake of heightened national sensitivity to illegal immigration since September 11. Georgia Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, who publicly stated in 1999 that Latino voter-registration drives "aren't registering Republicans," is among the most aggressive in pushing for alien driver's licenses. Politics must not be a determining factor when protecting constitutional rights.

Illegal immigrants have chosen to break the law by not following normal INS procedures providing them necessary documents to obtain driver's licenses. States issuing licenses to illegals flout such requirements, resulting in waivers of criminal background checks and safeguards against the growing problem of "stolen" identities. Mr. Condon points out that "thousands upon thousands" of illegals receiving driver's licenses in neighboring North Carolina come to his state to receive licenses under rules of reciprocity, further complicating any effort to track the recipients.

The four states currently issuing driver's licenses to illegals are handing over the "keys to the kingdom" of social and economic interaction, without the necessary checks to ensure that illegals will play by the rules. They've already demonstrated they won't.

And so we consider voting. I recently registered to vote in my new hometown while updating my driver's license. A Motor Vehicles Department worker politely asked whether I would like to register to vote, and I said yes. That was the extent of the transaction. No inquiry as to citizenship, Social Security number, or even whether I was currently a registered voter (which I am). How many times has the same transaction occurred, without the safeguards, resulting in illegal aliens registering to vote? The statistics tell the tale literally tens of thousands of times across the United States.

A legal challenge to the motor-voter crisis and illegal aliens will involve dramatic constitutional issues touching on cornerstones of American government voting, jury duty, participation in civic life and protection of the ballot box. But the question is simple will we defend basic processes of representative government, or will we undermine the very system that has become so attractive to millions around the globe? The answer will say much about us.

Phil Kent is president of Southeastern Legal Foundation, a constitutional public-interest law firm researching legal action on the driver's license issue.

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