IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

GOP secretaries of state raise alarm about non-citizen voting

GOP election officials are raising the alarm about an alleged epidemic, saying Obama's immigration order will add to the threat. Shockingly, experts disagree.
Voters streamed through the polls at Brunswick Junior High as night fell on election day in Brunswick, Maine on Nov. 4, 2014.
Voters streamed through the polls at Brunswick Junior High as night fell on election day in Brunswick, Maine on Nov. 4, 2014.

WASHINGTON -- A group of Republican state election officials took their campaign to raise the alarm about an alleged epidemic of non-citizen voting to Washington this week.

At a Beltway conference and in testimony on Capitol Hill, several GOP secretaries of state called for added safeguards to prevent voting by non-citizens, and said President Obama’s executive order on immigration will increase the threat.

“I’m concerned about it,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in an interview Wednesday while attending a conference held by the National Association of Secretaries of State. “It’s a very real problem of aliens registering to vote.”

RELATED: Holder: 'We will continue this fight'

In a letter sent late last month to Obama, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted warned that the immigration order, which shields around 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, would worsen the problem by adding to the number of non-citizens who have driver’s licenses, which can then be used to register to vote. The White House has not responded to the letter.

Husted declined an interview request at the conference. But Kobach said he shares Husted’s concern.

“If you increase the population of people who are not U.S. citizens getting driver’s licenses, it necessarily follows that these errors that keep happening will increase as well,” said Kobach, a former Bush administration aide who, before running for elected office, played a prominent role in drafting and promoting some of the harshest state-based immigration laws.

On Thursday, both Kobach and Husted reinforced those concerns in testimony before a House committee.

“It is a certainty that the administration’s executive actions will result in a large number of additional aliens registering to vote throughout the country,” Kobach said in his opening statement. “In states like Kansas, we have been working hard to address the problem of aliens illegally voting in our elections. The administration’s actions have set us back in our efforts, increasing the risk of stolen elections and gravely undermining the rule of law.”

Kobach called the problem of non-citizens registering to vote “a massive one, nationwide.”

Husted’s testimony was more measured. He acknowledged that non-citizen voting is not a “systemic or widespread problem,” but nonetheless called on the federal government to share access to databases that would let state officials track non-citizens with social security numbers.             

In his testimony, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, offered a different view, saying fears about non-citizen voting were “completely without basis.”

Indeed, voting by non-citizens is extremely rare. A 2013 investigation conducted by Husted’s office found that just 17 non-citizens voted in Ohio in 2012. That's even though nearly 200,000 non-citizens in the state already have driver’s licenses, according to the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Obama’s immigration order is expected to affect around 25,000 people in the state.

RELATED: Jon Husted: Obama immigration order will lead to illegal voting

One non-partisan expert last week, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told msnbc last week the issue is "much ado about nothing" and "political posturing." 

Still, Kobach said in the interview that the immigration order offers more ammunition for his position in a court case he's currently pursuing against the federal government over whether he has the power to require that people show proof of citizenship when they register to vote. The Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency, argues that states can’t change the federal voter registration form to impose additional requirements. That form already requires people to attest, on penalty of perjury, that they are citizens.

During a presentation by the EAC commissioners at the conference Wednesday, Kobach asked them directly about the scope of their authority on the issue. And when all the secretaries of state were asked to name their top priorities for the year, Kobach said his was to prevail in the case and return control of voter registration process to the states.

There was plenty support for Kobach’s crusade from other Republicans. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, seated next to Kobach, asked the commissioners whether and when they might rule on the Kansan’s request (Georgia, too, wants to require proof of citizenship from those registering to vote.) Wyoming’s Ed Murray said he agreed with Kobach about the need for states to control the process. And Colorado’s Wayne Williams asked the commissioners whether the EAC should exist at all.  

Separately, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said in a brief interview she’s “very confident” that her state will pass a voter ID law. Cegavske, a Republican and voter ID supporter, said three separate bills are currently being drafted.

Cegavske added that the lawmakers are looking to Indiana’s ID measure as a model, because it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008. That law is classified as “strict” by the National Conference of State Legislatures.