Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has made undocumented immigrants the latest target in his ongoing effort to suppress votes. In a letter sent last week, Husted argues that President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration will lead to non-citizens registering to vote, which would have “lasting implications for the integrity of our elections.”
According to Husted, Obama’s order granting deportation reprieve to millions of undocumented immigrants will allow them to obtain Social Security numbers or driver’s licenses and opens the possibility that they could register to vote.
“In spite of our diligence maintaining accurate voter registration rolls, however, the recent executive actions could jeopardize their integrity by making it much easier for people who are not U.S. citizens to illegally register and cast ballots,” Husted wrote.
Conservatives have long tried to tie immigration reform to potential voter fraud. True the Vote, a Tea Party poll watcher group, first attacked the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill as a “golden opportunity” for immigrants to “undermine our electoral system.” The line was quickly taken up by Republican lawmakers.
Those like Husted who claim undocumented immigrants could influence elections continue to cite a study suggesting that non-citizen voting could determine the 2014 election. But the research has largely been debunked, and the study’s authors acknowledged the limitations of their findings.
Ten states and Washington, DC have made all undocumented immigrants eligible to apply for driver’s license cards. Forty-five states, including Ohio, have allowed driver’s licenses for those undocumented youths who qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Supporters say allowing immigrants to apply for licenses could make roads safer. However, the cards do not allow recipients to vote.
Efforts in several states to catch non-citizens voting illegally ahead of the 2012 election turned up virtually no offenders. In Ohio, Husted reported 17 cases of non-citizens who voted in the 2012 election — .0003 percent of total ballots cast in the state.
Even Husted has admitted non-citizen voting isn’t a problem in Ohio, although he claims he has to be extra vigilant because of Ohio’s position as a swing state.
“It is not a huge problem, but it is a problem that exists and we don’t have a good way to check against it now,” he told reporters.
Husted’s letter suggests he may use the specter of non-citizen voting to crack down on third-party voter registration, often a crucial get-out-the-vote tool for black and Latino communities with low voter turnout. “Such drives occur outside of the presence of election officials who could explain that citizenship — not mere lawful presence — is a fundamental requirement for registering to vote and who can caution non-citizens against erroneous attestations,” Husted wrote.
Florida and Texas have already targeted third-party voter registration drives, even after federal judges found the law unconstitutionally suppressed voting rights. Husted himself admitted in 2013 that there was no evidence that voter registration drives were plotting to register non-citizens to vote.
Even as he has dismissed the idea that voter fraud is an epidemic in Ohio, Husted has repeatedly fought to restrict voting. He became an infamous figure in the 2012 election for his efforts to cut early voting, going so far as to defy a court order requiring early voting hours to be restored in 2012. In 2014, Husted agreed to join an error-riddled multi-state voter purge database which he claims would prevent voters from casting ballots in multiple states during an election.
Meanwhile, some cities are actually trying to let some non-citizens vote in local elections, reasoning that a significant portion of their residents are unable to vote on matters that impact their daily lives.