The Slippery Ground of Driver’s Licenses and Voting


A William Bigelow article on Breitbart raises the nexus of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and voter registration related to new legislation just signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown:

Any person who renewed or secured a driver’s license through the DMV may now register to vote, or choose to opt out of doing so. Because illegal immigrants are now eligible for obtaining driver’s licenses, they could be allowed to vote in elections if the Secretary of State’s office fails to verify their eligibility properly.

With the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants still floating around Rhode Island’s news cycle, Rhode Islanders should understand where their state government is, right now, on this slippery slope of licensing and registration.  Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to tell as one might want it to be, and that’s a bad sign.

According to my reading of the relevant law, the governor cannot use her executive authority to create a new type of driver’s license for illegal immigrants, but it would be within her authority to extend regular licenses to them.  The form that they would fill out to do so has a section asking whether they’d like to register to vote.  According to the Board of Elections, checking the box for “yes” would lead the DMV employee to give the applicant a voter registration form.

Inasmuch as a person applying for a driver’s license would likely have neither a license number, a state ID, nor a Social Security number, any such illegal immigrant would be directed to the instructions for Box 3, which say that he or she “will be required to provide identification to an election official before voting,” which is now required of every voter, anyway.

At the polling place, forms of acceptable identification include driver’s licenses, which the person would presumably now have, under an executive order.  And even if he or she didn’t, the ballot would be held as “provisional,” subject to a decision from the local Board of Canvassers.

The one barrier to voting, therefore, appears to be the statute requiring the registrant to check the “yes” box for citizenship, with the burden for catching a lie falling on the government.  As Bigelow puts it, the person’s vote carries if the relevant government office “fails to verify their eligibility properly.”  And the penalty looming as enforcement is a $1,000 fine with the possibility of a larger fine and some jail time.  It’s worth noting, here, that the law requires the registration form to include information on the “penalties provided by law for submitting a false voter registration,” but the actual form does not state the minimum fine, only that penalties “can” be imposed.

The law does provide for citizens to challenge the validity of an individual’s registration.  In such cases, the local canvassers would ask about citizenship and strike an illegal immigrant from the voter roles, but I don’t see any a process that will automatically result in an investigation, prosecution, and minimum fine.  Meanwhile, a person submitting the challenge could risk being investigated for a misdemeanor “unsubstantiated challenge,” facing fines and jail time, or perhaps even a a false affidavit, which would have the same penalties as voter fraud.

Of course, most of this ambiguity is already a problem, but the issuance of driver’s licenses would substantially increase the opportunity for fraud (or, if you like, error) and decrease the ability of officials or citizens to catch it.  The larger problem is the public’s justifiable distrust in the rule of law in Rhode Island and the country these days.  For many Rhode Islanders, the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants would be another reason to suspect that their government is working against them, and imposing the new policy through an executive order would be decisive evidence.

  • Andrew Aleman

    In order to get a RI License, according to the link you supplied, They need the LI-1 form AND Identity document. (Check your link, it shows what is required) So, even if the governor expanded the list to include undocumented immigrants, they would still NEED to present proof of citizenship at the DMV, for them to vote.

    It even says on the form, only for a US Citizen. And in order to get a license, you need to present documents. A US citizen would present birth certificate or US Passport, enabling them to accurately check the box to vote. If you were not a US Citizen, the DMV would be presented with the documents showing you are not a US Citizen or lack of documents, and tell you that you are not eligible to vote in America. Therefore, I don’t see how they can even get past the DMV part.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      That’s a good observation, but two arguments decrease its significance:

      1. The governor’s route to giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses by executive order would be changing the ID requirements. That’s one slippery area that Rhode Islanders have to watch very carefully. Citing the requirements as they stand right now is little more useful than noting that illegal immigrants can’t currently get licenses. And that’s exacerbated by…

      2. … a lack of trust that the rule of law still holds in Rhode Island. Sure, if we could believe that politicians were implementing policy for our benefit and that the employees of the state were united in their desire to follow the law for our benefit, my concerns would be much allayed. The relevant statute (17-9.1-7) states that the DMV must provide registration forms to anybody who ” may be by the next general election qualified to vote,” and there is no language that I could find requiring the DMV employee to undertake any effort at judgment or offer any resistance. Again, the protection is about as strong as asking the person to check the “yes” box for citizenship. I also don’t see any requirement that an applicant for the driver’s license has to prove citizenship, or that the DMV employee has to verify it. A native or naturalized citizen could show forms of ID unrelated to citizenship, which might be even more of a problem depending how Raimondo went about her order.

      Moreover, the voter registration form has a frighting “note” that “it is against the law for anyone to interfere with your privacy in registering to vote or in choosing a political party.” If DMV employees aren’t explicitly authorized to review and enforce voter registration laws or to pass along suspicions to the Board of Elections, they could be targeted.

      To repeat: The key point is that one lesson of the last seven years or so in Rhode Island and the United States is that the people cannot trust that the government will operate in ways that illustrate a common-sense enforcement of what we all believe the law to be. Taking steps toward giving licenses to illegal immigrants of itself further erodes that confidence.

      • Andrew Aleman

        Hi again.

        Yes, it is true that we do not know what would be required under the new policy but we can take a stab at it, under the General Laws, which would not be effected by a order.

        Under 17-0.1-7, only a person “qualified to vote” or soon to be qualified can register to vote at the DMV. And the documents required as of now, and will be more than likely in the future still be required. Because as of now, a non-citizen can get a license to drive as long as they have a Visa, etc (list is provided to your link.)

        2. That is a interesting point that they can be targeted. 17-9.1-29 actually provides for that mechanism. However, I am pretty sure that someone at the DMV would be in that position to challenge it, when the person can not provided the required documents. Additionally, under the standard of the law, they would not be targeted by the enforcement mechanism unless they “willfully and maliciously” in their challenges. Interestingly the enforcement mechanism says it applies to every person.

        • OceanStateCurrent

          I don’t know what I could say that wouldn’t be repeating what I’ve already said (which you in large part repeated, just coming to a different conclusion). My primary point isn’t that giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses will effectively give them the ability to vote. Rather, as I write in the post, it would increase the avenues toward fraud while making it more difficult to catch. That leaves a large area of the law simply covered by trust in the system, of which I have very little remaining.

          But think how very narrow our conversation is. Your objection can be washed away if illegal immigrants are simply given regular driver’s licenses by executive order (rather than a variation of the license by legislation), they can fill out the voter registration form whenever and mail it in with his or her license number.

          I should stress, here, that my primary purpose in investigating and writing about these issues is to present a list of requirements that any legal steps to provide such licenses should have to overcome.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            Since a driver’s license is not indicia of citizenship, why don’t we have a system of “voter registration cards”? These seem to be a mid western idea, but must have some substance. I remember that in college underage kids from the mid-west had these altered to indicate they were of drinking age.

      • Terry Gorman

        Does anyone really believe our DMV is prepared to deal with the 18,000 to 25,000 Illegal Aliens they themselves estimate will be eligible to apply. Remember they could potentially be speaking 50+ different languages. Interestingly, Dorcas International in Providence claims to have only 5000 clients and they require 50 interpreters.

  • ShannonEntropy

    Hi Andrew

    Justin is absolutely right … anyone who gets a Rhodent driver’s license and who is willing to perjure themselves about being a US Citizen can register to vote

    See =►

    Since most illegal immigrants here are Hispanic … and since most all of that group votes Democratic

    … what possible motive would Gina have for getting them all on our Voter Registration rosters ??

    • Mike678

      And what incentive do DMV employees operating under such an administration have to to bother checking? After all, the lines in the DMV are already long enough.