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National Issues

"You Don't Need Papers To Vote?" Non-Citizen Voting and ID Requirements in U.S. Elections PDF Print Email
By U.S. Representative Rush Holt   
August 07, 2006

The following Statement was submitted on June 22, 2006 for the Committee on House Administration Hearing on non-citizen voting.


Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Millender-McDonald and respected Members of the Committee, I wished to speak before you today because, while I am pleased that the Committee is considering the issue of fraud in U.S. elections, I am disappointed that your emphasis today is the possibility that dishonest voters will cheat, rather than the possibility that honest voters will be disenfranchised. I do not say that because I think voters will never cheat; I simply say it because evidence that they are doing so to any significant degree appears to be lacking.

For the past three years, I have been documenting to the House Membership the substantial risks that our votes may not be counted as cast on paperless electronic voting machines, that paperless electronic voting devices cannot be independently audited, and that time and again, such systems have been shown to have lost, added, changed, or miscounted our votes. I thank the Chairman again for holding this hearing on election reform today and for the commitment he expressed to me to hold a hearing on the subject of e-voting security and auditability of election systems before the November elections, and I urge him to do so soon.  

The unfortunate remark made by Congressional candidate Francine Busby during her race in California’s 50th Congressional District, which is memorialized in the title of this hearing, is precisely the sort of “anecdotal” rhetorical device that Professor Overton, who testified to this Committee, has remarked. Will we make policy in this Congress on the basis of anecdotes and sound bites, or on the basis of hard evidence? Did Ms. Busby’s remark in fact provoke illegal aliens to vote?  Did any aliens actually overcome the already-existing barriers to entry at the polls and succeed in casting an illegal vote? I do not believe the witnesses before the Committee today offered compelling evidence that such problems were rampant in that election or others. I will be very interested see evidence that voters are, to any significant degree, showing up at more than one polling place to vote, or successfully voting without being registered, or trying to vote using someone else’s identity.  

The Department of Justice (DOJ), in its “Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity for 2004,” reported that “[a]t the end of 2004, the [Public Integrity] Section was supervising and providing advice on approximately 133 election crime matters nationwide.” That is an average of just over 2 cases per State for the entire year – hardly an avalanche. In addition, most of the cases described with specificity in the report concerned campaign finance violations. Only one described a vote-buying scheme, and none referred specifically to non-citizen or double voting. On the other hand, the same Report noted that a total of 1,213 public officials had been federally charged with corruption in 2004, that 1,020 of them had been convicted of corruption, and that 419 cases remained pending.  In other words, according to the DOJ’s own findings, the problem of corruption among public officials is at the very least ten times worse than the problem of citizens cheating in elections.


The very passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) indicates that voter disenfranchisement, rather than voter cheating, has been the problem that has required remedying – namely, that too many voters who were duly registered and entitled to vote were being wrongfully refused access to the polls. HAVA’s requirement that all such voters be given the right to cast a provisional ballot sought to address this well-documented problem.    

Shortly after the November 2004 elections, I co-moderated a forum on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, The Century Foundation and Common Cause.  Entitled “Voting in 2004: A Report to the Nation on America’s Election Process,” the day-long event included reports from experts on every aspect of our electoral system. Endless accounts of various sorts of disenfranchisement of legitimate voters were presented, but I cannot recall any reports of illegitimate voters cheating the system by voting twice, or voting without being registered, or voting in someone else’s name. The comprehensive report delivered that day is still available on the Common Cause website, and I commend them to the Committee.

Among its conclusions, Common Cause found that “[p]roblems in the voting process were most often the fault of election officials—not voters.  For example, studies show that most of the problems incurred with respect to provisional ballots were caused by errors by election administrators before the election, poorly trained poll workers on Election Day, and a lack of diligence by election officials in verifying the validity of provisional ballots after the election.”   Indeed, in its “2004 Election Day Survey Results,” the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) reported that more than 1.9 million provisional ballots were cast, and that 64% of those were counted.   What that means is that 1.2 million voters were told that they were not duly registered, when in fact they were.

Meanwhile, other studies have found that instances of double voting and voting using another’s identity are virtually non-existent. A study of 2.8 million ballots cast in Washington State in 2004, for example, showed that only 0.0009 percent of them reflected double voting or voting in the name of deceased individuals.

It is also important to note that, for the most part, the States have not taken action to mandate that photo ID be presented at the polls. As of 2005, approximately two-thirds of the States requested no documentary evidence at the polls other than as already required by HAVA, and instead admitted voters after, for example, having them sign a poll book and comparing their signature to the signature on file. Six states requested some form of documentary evidence at the polls, but allowed voters to submit affidavits attesting to their identity in lieu thereof. Four states requested photo identification but also accepted affidavits or other attestations to identity instead. Only two states mandated photo identification.  In contrast, the relative demand by the States for e-voting security measures – specifically voter-verified paper records for each vote cast – is significant.  Currently, 27 states mandate them, and a dozen more have legislation on the subject pending.   

Of course, I agree fully that we must ensure the accuracy and integrity of voter registration lists, and ensure that duly registered voters are able to cast votes. Duly registered voters must, indeed, be able to vote. I have introduced legislation that will help ensure precisely that.  My legislation, the Electoral Fairness Act (H.R. 4989), recognizes that an honest assessment of elections in the United States reveals vastly more evidence of wrongful disenfranchisement of legitimate voters than of intentional and fraudulent voting by dishonest voters.  

My bill would require that all voters, upon being duly registered, be issued a durable voter registration card at no cost to the voter, “which shall serve as proof that the individual is duly registered to vote” at the polling place which services the individual’s address listed on the card. The bill also authorizes to the Election Assistance Commission such sums as may be necessary to defray to the States the cost of issuing these cards. Each card may then be used by a voter to prove to election officials that the voter is, in fact, duly registered in the jurisdiction in which the voter is seeking to vote even if the voter’s name has been omitted erroneously from the voter registration list.

I want to be very clear – the durable voter registration card contemplated by my legislation is not a voter identification requirement. While it may be used to satisfy existing voter identification requirements, it does not add any. Producing it is not a prerequisite to voting.  Failure to produce it results in no penalty or detriment to the voter.  

The purpose of this card is to protect voters who are removed from the voter rolls erroneously. It mandates that voters be provided, for free, durable proof that they are duly registered, and allows them to use this proof to vote via regular ballot if they have been wrongfully or erroneously removed from the voter registration list. The benefit to our democracy and to election officials is that duly registered voters will be able to prove that they are so by producing the card at the polls. These voters will be entitled to cast a regular ballot – as they should be – in instances of wrongful or erroneous removal of their names from the list.  As a result, the need for and use of provisional ballots should decrease. If photo ID were to be required at the polls, on the other hand, thousands if not millions of voters who cannot afford the time or money to obtain one would be added to the ranks of the disenfranchised, all to solve what appears to be a virtually non-existent problem.

I would like to thank the Committee again for taking up the issue of election reform, and I urge it to consider the full range of critical issues that face our electoral system as expeditiously as possible.  Thank you. 
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