President’s Trump’s commission plans to place significant reliance on data from the Department of Homeland Security to determine the extent of illegal voting by noncitizens.
But the commission, headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, may be in for unpleasant surprises.
Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is perhaps the only government agency that asks legal noncitizen residents, under the penalty of perjury, if they broke the law and registered to vote or voted. It would be one important data point in assessing the breadth of voter fraud across America.
But as The Washington Times found out in a denied Freedom of Information Act request, USCIS does not track and archive such information. There is no compilation for political scientists, scholars or a government commission to research. The Pence commission would have to ask Homeland Security to review every application — nearly 1 million last year alone — to find each reply.
That is one finding in The Times’ review of Homeland Security Department operations as they relate to illegal voting by noncitizens. Other points:
• The commission says it plans to compare noncitizen permanent resident files with public voter registration rosters. But Homeland Security does not have the names of millions of noncitizens living in the U.S. illegally. The gap means the panel cannot cross-check those residents, leaving one major question answered.
• The USCIS manual discourages officers from disqualifying a naturalization applicant who stands convicted of voting illegally if it is the lone offense.
• USCIS has no policy for referring to prosecutors applicants who admit to illegal voting.
• Applicants who deny ever voting are not subjected to automatic verification by scanning publicly available voter rosters. In theory, Homeland Security could take the applicant’s name and address and compare the data to the person’s local voter lists, but it does not.
“Going forward, the Trump administration and the presidential commission should investigate all possibilities for improved data sharing between the DHS, Department of Justice and state election officials to identify illegal voter registrations and ballots cast thereafter,” said Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit law firm. “That’s what real election modernization looks like.”
Conservative grass-roots groups such as the legal foundation assert that large numbers of aliens, perhaps in the millions, register to vote and vote illegally for Congress and the presidency — and they vote mostly for Democrats.
Data on what prospective citizens say about their voting history would be a valuable research tool to add to a knowledge base of scientific polling and ongoing voter roster investigations.
Voting history is included in Form N-400, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In Part 12 of the N-400, the questionnaire asks:
1. Have you EVER registered to vote in any Federal, state, or local election in the United States?
2. Have you EVER voted in any Federal, state, or local election in the United States?
The Times asked the USCIS public affairs office for a compilation of the answers for the past 10 years. A spokeswoman said the newspaper would need to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act, which The Times subsequently did.
The response letter from the FOIA office said: “We are unable to fill this request. Our agency does not track this specific information.”
An immigration official, who asked not to be identified, said the agency is following FOIA law in denying The Times’ request because the data were not in an existing report or compilation.
Other Homeland Security policies appear to go soft on illegal voting.
The immigration service has guidelines for determining a citizenship applicant’s “good moral character.” A lack of “GMC,” as the manual calls it, can lead to denial of citizenship. Offenses that can result in denial include being in prison for 180 days or longer, prostitution, two or more gambling offenses, “habitual drunkard,” drug peddling and crimes against one’s family such as sexual abuse.
Under unlawful voting, the policy reads, if the applicant is convicted of illegal voting but not imprisoned for 180 days or more, then the conviction is “unlikely a [crime of moral turpitude] and will not bar GMC by itself.”
The guidance further states: “A conviction for unlawful voting, by itself, generally should not bar an applicant from establishing GMC because the conviction is unlikely to be a CIMT.”
In other words, with the phrase “should not bar,” Homeland Security is advising officers to be lenient.
Arwen FitzGerald, an immigration services spokeswoman, said the agency does not have a policy of looking the other way.
“USCIS does not have a policy, official or otherwise, that discourages officers from denying naturalization applicants if they have voted unlawfully,” she said. “Unlawful voting and false claim to U.S. citizenship for voting may be unlawful acts. An applicant who has committed, was convicted, or imprisoned for an unlawful act or acts during the good moral character (GMC) period may be found to lack GMC.”
Ms. FitzGerald said the agency “does not have a mechanism in place to cross-check voter registration.” Officers who suspect voter fraud can turn information over to the fraud detection and national security branch.
Ms. FitzGerald said that if an applicant denies illegal voting but an officer suspects otherwise, then the officer can demand any voting records that may pertain to the noncitizen with the local board of election. If the applicant refuses, then the officer can deny citizenship.
Although Homeland Security does not routinely cross-check voter lists, the Pence commission on voter fraud plans to do just that.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order May 11 creating the panel, to be led by the vice president and Mr. Kobach, a voter fraud hawk.
Mr. Kobach, a Republican, told The Times that the commission will compare Homeland Security’s comprehensive list of immigrants and visa holders with public voter registration lists in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
But if illegal immigrants are voting, and polls say they are, then Mr. Kobach’s staff will not find their names at Homeland Security.
“Given the nature of an undocumented individual, we are unable to track names or maintain a database,” Ms. FitzGerald said.
The 2013 census found that nearly 20 million noncitizen adults, legal and nonlegal immigrants, live in the U.S. They are not legally entitled to register to vote or to vote. Homeland Security estimates that about 12 million illegal immigrants reside in the U.S. A Homeland Security Department official told Congress that the number could be a high as 15 million.
Democrats and liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center contend that there is little or no illegal voting in America. A group of liberal political science professors contend that “zero” illegal immigrants vote — a position belied by the presence of thousands of such people on voter rolls.
Conservative groups say the problem is largely under the radar, given the lack of registration cross-checks and little interest by prosecutors or states to delve deeply into voter fraud.
They point to data points such as the 2013 Hispanic Poll conducted by a reputable Republican polling firm for the wine industry.
As a subset of questioning, the poll asked a sample of Hispanics in the U.S. if they were citizens and if they were registered to vote. The result: 13 percent of noncitizens said they were registered. Applied to 11.8 million noncitizen Hispanic adults, the number who are illegally registered could range from 800,000 to 2.2 million, according to a calculation by the nonprofit research institute Just Facts.
Other evidence is based on people, not polls.
Spot checks by conservative activists in Virginia and Maryland have found hundreds of illegal immigrants registered to vote based on a limited sample of jury pool questionnaires compared with voter lists. People who disqualified themselves from juries because of noncitizenship were found to be on voter rolls.
On May 30, the Public Interest Legal Foundation released ones of its most comprehensive reports.
Its investigation found that Virginia, which elects its next governor this year, removed more than 5,500 noncitizens from voter lists, including 1,852 people who had cast more than 7,000 ballots.
The group said the state removed these people after they voluntarily admitted to being noncitizens, most likely in obtaining a driver’s license when the citizenship question is asked.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, which filed three lawsuits to obtain data, said that what remains unknown is how many noncitizens are still voters because they have not admitted to being ineligible.
“In this election year, aliens must not cast illegal ballots, and if they do, they must be prosecuted,” said J. Christian Adams, the legal foundation’s president who served as a lawyer in the George W. Bush Justice Department.
Mr. Trump has talked of a comprehensive commission study, not just queries about illegal immigrants. He wants Mr. Pence’s commissioners also to determine how many dead people stay on the rolls and how many people are registered in more than one state.
The president suspects millions of people voted illegally in the Nov. 8 election.