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.