Gessler, Suthers Press Feds to Help Verify Citizenship of Registered Voters

July 11, 2012

Gessler released evidence in May of some 430 Colorado voters who identified themselves as non-citizens

DENVER—Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has ramped up the pressure on federal officials to help verify the accuracy of the state’s voter rolls, bringing in Attorney General John Suthers and elected officials from 11 other states.

In separate letters to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano released Tuesday, Gessler and Suthers called for the department to check the citizenship status of about 5,000 registered Colorado voters whose citizenship is in doubt against federal databases.

Suthers also asked the department to agree to the process set out in a nine-page memorandum of understanding by July 20 “so that we can resolve this longstanding issue before the November election.”

“Like my colleagues across the nation, I have sought to identify and remove anyone not legally allowed to vote, but without access to citizenship information from the Department of Homeland Security I have no avenue to verify the citizenship status of voters,” said Gessler. “This vulnerability erodes confidence in our elections.”

For the past year, Gessler has repeatedly attempted to secure the department’s cooperation in verifying the citizenship status of suspected non-citizen voters. The secretary is interested in gaining access to two databases, the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) and the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC) programs.

In a May 10 letter, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas declined to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Colorado, saying “we must further assess serious legal and operational issues that remain before we can make a determination on your request.”

Suthers called the response “extremely disappointing,” adding that “we have yet to receive any specifics about how to proceed expeditiously.” He cited court decisions stating that federal authorities must respond to requests from state officials seeking verification of citizenship or immigration status.

“If we do not hear from you in a timely manner, we will consider any and all other options legally available to us to ensure our compliance with federal and state mandates,” said Suthers.

The effort to ensure the integrity of Colorado’s rolls comes as part of a national tug-of-war over voter eligibility pitting Republican state officials against Democrats, voting-rights groups and even federal agencies. Complicating the issue is what Suthers described as the federal government’s “uneven application of policy across the states.”

For example, the Justice Department has sued to stop Florida from removing ineligible voters from its rolls, even as North Carolina has dropped suspected non-citizen voters who have failed to provide proof of citizenship.

Like Colorado, Michigan has repeatedly requested assistance from Homeland Security to verify its rolls, without success. But Nebraska and Maine have reported cooperation from the department in checking the status of voters, said Suthers.

In May, Gessler responded to critics who contend there is no voter-fraud problem in Colorado by releasing the redacted records of 430 Colorado voters who identified themselves as non-citizens and asked to be removed from the rolls. Some of those admitted that they had previously cast ballots.

Gessler said he has flagged another 5,000 Coloradans who produced a non-citizen document, such as a card identifying them as legal residents, at the time they registered to vote. About 2,000 of those have voted in recent elections, said Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge.

While some may still be non-citizens as thus ineligible to vote, others may have completed their citizenship requirements. Rather than risk a political outcry by removing them himself or demanding proof of citizenship, Gessler wants to check their status against the federal databases.

Complicating the issue is Colorado’s status as a battleground state in the November election. Democrats generally favor erring on the side of keeping voters on the rolls, even ineligible ones, rather than risk disenfranchising any eligible voter. Most of those whose eligibility is in question are recent immigrants who tend to vote Democratic.

Republicans argue that keeping thousands of ineligible voters on the rolls dilutes the impact of eligible voters and taints the accuracy of election results. In a close race, it’s possible that non-citizens could determine the winner.

Both Gessler and Suthers are Republicans, while Napolitano is a Democrat.

In his letter, Gessler said another 11 state officials are expected to issue their own requests for a memorandum of understanding with Homeland Security. The officials, all Republicans, hail from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah and Washington.

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