- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2020

Juan Landeros-Mireles admitted in court last year that he registered to vote and even cast ballots in the 2016 election, though he has never been a U.S. citizen.

As the November election nears, he is still listed as an active voter in Wilson County, North Carolina.

Given his past, it’s not likely he will try again, but his experience does strengthen an argument of voter integrity advocates: Some local rolls haven’t been cleansed of illegitimate voters, creating opportunities for fraudulent ballots to be cast.

Landeros-Mireles isn’t alone.

Federal prosecutors charged 17 other people with illegally voting as noncitizens in eastern North Carolina in one major sweep in 2018. All of them admitted in court that they were not citizens and flouted the law by voting, yet six of those names are still listed as active voters in the state.

“It just doesn’t seem people are taking it seriously,” said Tom Spencer, an election lawyer and vice president at the Lawyers Democracy Fund. “They don’t want to spend the money. They know there’s a problem, they know people move around, double vote. To them, it’s not a big deal.”

Local elections officials said there is not much they can do.

Greg Flynn, chair of the Wake County Elections Board, where several of the noncitizen voters are still registered, said nobody in his time in office “has come to the board to challenge the registration of a voter in the manner prescribed by [state] law, and the board is not at liberty to change the status of a voter registration record based simply on hearsay.”

Asked whether admissions of guilt in court were hearsay, Mr. Flynn forwarded the questions to the state board of elections.

Two years ago, a state board spokesman told The Washington Times that a conviction or guilty plea would be “definitive evidence.” Contacted for this article, the spokesman asked The Times to provide the names, which the paper did. The spokesman didn’t respond.

Pressure to vote

Voting as a noncitizen can be a deportable offense under the law, though the penalty is not usually imposed. Indeed, some of the people who voted as noncitizens might have acquired citizenship if the Homeland Security Department looked past their criminal behavior.

But experts said it’s unlikely that each of the six people still on the rolls have acquired citizenship.

Some of the migrants, in court proceedings, told the judge that they didn’t intend to break the law.

Landeros-Mireles’ attorney, James E. Todd, said he went with a companion to a food pantry and the workers there pressured him to register to vote.

“He’s functionally illiterate in English,” Mr. Todd, a federal public defender, told the court. “The person that he interacted with is the person that filled out the form and instructed him to sign it, and that’s how he was registered.”

Liberal activists have said prosecutors are turning honest mistakes into federal crimes.

But U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III, who sentenced some of the offenders, said Mr. Todd was right about lax registration checks but it was the voters who bore the blame for casting the ballots.

He said it’s basic knowledge worldwide that only citizens are eligible to vote.

“It gets back to this fundamental issue about how any noncitizen can think they can vote,” Judge Dever said. “It’s just beyond me.”

Mr. Todd, the lawyer, didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Washington Times.

Judge Dever sentenced Landeros-Mireles to two months of house arrest, two years of probation and a $1,200 fine.

Rena’ Morris, director of the Board of Elections in Wilson County, where Landeros-Mireles is still listed, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from The Times.

One of the 2018 cases involved an illegal immigrant who had been ordered deported, ignored that demand and adopted a fake identity. He even managed to win citizenship under the false name and used it to register to vote, prosecutors said.

Another case involved Guadalupe Espinosa-Pena, a Mexican immigrant who held a green card signifying permanent residency. He applied for citizenship but was denied twice.

Prosecutors said he attempted to register to vote and was told he couldn’t because he was a noncitizen. He filled out a form anyway at the urging of his girlfriend, who worked for the elections board.

The registration form requires applicants to check a box affirming they are citizens. Espinosa-Pena left that box blank. His girlfriend, the elections official, said they wanted to see whether the form would be processed.

It was. When Homeland Security, which led the investigation, retrieved Espinosa-Pena’s form, the “Yes” box next to citizenship had been checked.

Mr. Todd, who was defending the girlfriend, Denslo Allen Paige, again blamed the system. He said poll workers in North Carolina aren’t trained to worry about citizenship as a condition for voting, and it’s barely mentioned in the Election Day manual they are given.

“I think it’s a failure in the system,” he said. “In this case, inadequate training and preparation of those people that are assigned to work at the polling places.”

Judge Louise W. Flanagan sentenced Espinosa-Pena to a month in prison and a year of probation. She sentenced Paige to two months in prison and a year of probation.

A check of voter registration records still shows the name Guadalupe Espinosa-Pena as active.

Mr. Flynn said local elections officials can’t assume it’s the same person, though only one person with that name has been registered in the county.

He also said it’s too late to change the rolls because state law prevents names from being removed close to an election.

Politically radioactive

Mr. Spencer said local elections officials feel pressure from above not to kick names off voter rolls.

“It’s politically radioactive for them,” he said. “They don’t want to lose their jobs.”

North Carolina’s problem with signing up ineligible voters has been known for years.

In 2014, the state ran the names of illegal immigrant “Dreamers” who had been approved for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty and found 109 out of about 15,000 total state DACA residents were registered to vote.

A 2014 study by Jesse R. Richman, a political scientist at Old Dominion University, argued that noncitizen voting in North Carolina probably accounted for Barack Obama’s win in the state in the 2008 election over Republican John McCain.

Federal prosecutors in central North Carolina last week announced charges against 19 more people they said weren’t citizens yet cast votes in the 2016 election. Of those, 12 have been removed from voter rolls, according to state records.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was involved in the 2018 and 2020 cases, helping identify noncitizen voters.

The state has not been cooperative. Indeed, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed an effort by the state legislature last year to clean up the voter rolls.

The bill would have allowed officials to compare jury duty documents with voter rolls, because only citizens are allowed to serve on juries. Anyone who begged off jury duty because of a lack of citizenship but was registered to vote could be probed.

Mr. Cooper said he feared comparing lists would lead to “voter harassment and intimidation and could discourage citizens from voting.”

Logan Churchwell with the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a voting integrity outfit, said North Carolina officials have blocked efforts to bring transparency to its voter registration process.

His organization is suing the state board of elections to try to pry loose data. Without that, it’s impossible to estimate the extent of noncitizen voting.

“North Carolina’s lack of transparency is leaving the public with few options to explore the full scope of noncitizen voting activity and address any procedural shortcomings,” Mr. Churchwell told The Times.

The cases, while a small sample, do suggest some trends in noncitizen voting.

Almost all of the three dozen cases were listed as motor vehicle bureau customers, suggesting some of them signed up to vote while getting their driver’s licenses.

Twenty of the noncitizens were registered as Democrats or voted in Democratic Party primaries. Just seven were Republicans. Another 10 were unaffiliated.

All six of the noncitizen voter records from the 2018 cases that are still active are listed as Democrats.

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