Johnson: Voter rolls could have some 4,000 noncitizens
SEPTEMBER 18, 2012
Comparison of files suggests some non-U.S. citizens may have voting records
LANSING, Mich. – Michigan's voter rolls may contain as many as 4,000 registered voters who are not U.S. citizens according to new data, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced today.
"Elections have been won or lost on far less than 4,000 votes," said Johnson. "Five state house seats in Michigan's primary last month were decided by fewer than 100 votes each. Don't tell me that every vote isn't critical. We have to face this issue, not ignore it, or we are doing a disservice to every legitimate voter in Michigan."
Johnson has repeatedly asked federal officials – the only ones who have complete citizenship data – for help in identifying thousands of non-U.S. citizens on the state's voter rolls but to date they have refused.
"The whole reason we have non-U.S. citizens on our rolls in the first place is because for more than 30 years the feds required us to ask every customer if they wanted to register to vote, regardless of citizenship," Johnson said. "So today, we could have 4,000 people on our voter rolls who don't belong there – that's the population of cities like Bloomfield Hills or Durand."
Michigan Department of State staff verified that almost 1,000 people who are noncitizens are registered to vote, despite only having access to about 19 percent of complete citizenship data. Staff compared about 58,000 driver's license and personal identification card records where citizenship status could be verified back to 2010 with voter registration records. Of those, 54 appear to have a voting history in the state's qualified voter files for a total of 95 votes.
With the most-recent U.S. Census' five-year American Community Survey showing that Michigan has a noncitizen population of more than 304,000 people, it is estimated that as many as 4,000 noncitizens in Michigan could be registered voters.
Noncitizens who inadvertently registered to vote because a government form was put in front of them who vote can face felony criminal charges or even deportation, no matter how long they have worked toward becoming U.S. citizens.
Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, said of today's announcement: "Elections in Michigan are often won and lost by incredibly close margins. We must make every effort to have the cleanest voter rolls we can. The fact that we have noncitizens on our voter rolls and casting ballots should concern all eligible voters whose voices are being diluted by those who shouldn't be voting."
State Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, agreed, saying: "We know that noncitizens have been invited to register to vote for decades with many doing so, whether they've done it intentionally or not. Putting noncitizens on notice that casting a ballot is a serious crime is a simple, common-sense solution to this problem."
Oakland County Clerk Bill Bullard Jr. said he believes noncitizens are registered to vote in his county and supports the use of the U.S. citizenship question on the ballot applications. "While our numbers were small, and most probably registered by accident, it is my constitutional responsibility to protect the security of the voting process," he added. "Citizens do not want their vote diluted by those who should not vote, and noncitizens do not want the severe consequences that can result from voting illegally. The citizenship question is already on the voter registration form, and no one finds that controversial. Taking another two seconds to reaffirm citizenship should not be a major controversy, either."
Because there has been no official mechanism in place to help MDOS staff verify citizenship information for about another 80 percent of non-U.S. citizens in its records and the federal government has refused to assist Michigan, election officials haven't been able to remove noncitizens from the rolls – one reason Johnson believes that a citizenship question belongs on ballot applications in the polls on Election Day.
"This is a reminder, until we can ensure our voter rolls are as accurate as possible, that voting is the right of U.S. citizens only," Johnson said, adding the citizenship question already appeared on Michigan ballot applications as far back as 2002 as part of voter-education efforts.
"We have clear examples this is a problem and now have the numbers themselves," she said, pointing to recent incidents and even a federal report that identifies non-U.S. citizens are on voter rolls nationwide, including:
- A Canadian citizen who voted in multiple elections in Livingston County in the November 2000, November 2004, August 2006, November 2006, November 2008, August 2010 and November 2012 elections. The voter, who lives in Genoa Township, said he was unaware he couldn't vote legally in the United States until he checked "no" on the citizenship question on the ballot application.
- An Indonesian citizen nearly had his efforts at citizenship derailed after it became clear that he voted in the 2008 presidential election. The Kalamazoo resident told a reporter he signed his name on the voter application but he could not speak or read English. He also said he thought he was doing the right thing because voting is mandatory in Indonesia.
- The federal government has already publicly acknowledged the problem of noncitizens on voter rolls. A 2005 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that federal data sources "have the potential to help state election officials ensure that voter lists are accurate by identifying registrants who may be noncitizens."
For more information about Johnson's efforts to remove those who have died, moved or who are not U.S. citizens from the voter rolls, visit www.michigan.gov/sos.
Residents are also encouraged to visit www.ExpressSOS.com to conduct business online. For more information about Secretary of State office locations and services, visit www.michigan.gov/sos. Sign up for the official Secretary of State Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/michsos and Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/michigansos.
Customers also may call the Department of State Information Center to speak to a customer-service representative at 888-SOS-MICH (767-6424).
For media questions, please call Gisgie Dávila Gendreau at 517-373-2520.