Monday, August 23, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland election officials have been stymied in their efforts to purge illegal aliens from the state’s voting rolls.

They have begun compiling a database of the state’s 3 million registered voters, then they “hope to compare our data with the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service],” said Linda H. Lamone, the state’s elections administrator.

“If we find people who are improperly voting, then we will report them to the proper authorities, which we have done in the past,” Mrs. Lamone said.

But Maryland’s plan to identify the illegals on its voter rolls doesn’t make much sense to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — formerly the INS. Officials there point out that they only keep track of legal immigrants.

Furthermore, the agency said it has to protect the privacy of those aliens.

“From our standpoint, it is important to safeguard the confidentiality of each legal immigrant, especially in light of the federal Privacy Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act,” said USCIS spokesman Dan Kane.

Maryland’s aims reflect those of other states since the so-called “motor-voter” law in 1993 allowed people to register to vote at the same time they get their driver’s license or register their vehicle.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, has introduced a bill that would amend the motor-voter law by requiring voters to provide proof of identification for federal elections. It also would require states to verify that potential voters are citizens before adding their names to voting rolls.

President Clinton signed the motor-voter legislation into law, hailing it for increasing voter participation by simplifying registration. But many states do not verify citizenship when residents apply for licenses, which allows noncitizens to get on voting rolls.

Immigration officials estimate there are between 8 million and 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States — most of them from Latin America — and as many as 56,000 in Maryland.

Gilles Burger, chairman of the Maryland State Board of Elections, earlier this month said he was “shocked” to learn that voting rolls include noncitizens, the Associated Press reported.

Ron Hayduk, professor of political science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York, said Mr. Burger is making a fuss over nothing.

“Why would immigrants vote illegally when it puts them at risk?” Mr. Hayduk asked. “There is little evidence that immigrants actually do vote. It seems to me that the burden of proof is actually on those who claim illegal immigrants are voting.”

The U.S. Constitution allows only American citizens the right to vote, and Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, says that fact gets lost in the application of the motor- voter law.

“If you allow noncitizens the right to vote, then we must ask, what does it mean to be an American citizen?” said Mr. Tancredo, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration.

Jack Martin, special-projects director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said about 20 states have identification loopholes that allow illegal aliens to vote.

“Right now, there are a lot of states that have gray-area loopholes, such as accepting individual taxpayer-identification numbers rather than Social Security numbers as a basis for issuing licenses,” Mr. Martin said.

Individual taxpayer-identification numbers resemble Social Security numbers, except they begin with the number 9. They are distributed by the Internal Revenue Service solely for tax-collection purposes for people who are ineligible for a Social Security number.

Efforts to require confirmation of citizenship for voting in Maryland would be difficult, especially since six municipalities — Chevy Chase, Takoma Park, Garret Park, Barnesville, Martin’s Additions and Somerset — allow noncitizens to vote in local elections.

What’s more, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. in October told the state Motor Vehicle Administration that it must issue driver’s licenses to immigrants even if they cannot “prove [their] lawful presence” in the United States.

The Maryland General Assembly this year rejected legislation that would have barred illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses.

Last year, California repealed a law that had allowed illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses, joining Alabama, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Virginia enacted a similar law that took effect in January.

The issue of noncitizens getting onto voter rolls also has tainted jury pools, which are derived from voter rolls. In June, Circuit Court officials in Howard County, Md., had to decide if a guilty verdict in a murder case was valid after a noncitizen was discovered among the jurors. The verdict was deemed valid.

It was the first time in Maryland a verdict was jeopardized because a juror was not a citizen.

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