SEATTLE — Washington state won’t be able to access a federal database of legal immigrants to examine voting eligibility, The Secretary of State’s Office announced Tuesday.
Election officials said because the state doesn’t require proof of legal status during the process of obtaining a driver’s license, there is missing information that would be needed to access Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program.
The determination by election officials prompted Secretary of State Sam Reed to urge lawmakers to require proof of legal United States residency during the process to obtain a driver’s license — a thorny issue that has been debated in Olympia in the past few years.
“He thinks that’s reasonable,” said Secretary of State spokesman Dave Ammons. “It’s not a bizarre concept when 48 other states do it.
Washington and New Mexico are the only two states that don’t require a Social Security number during a license application. If a person doesn’t have a Social Security number, the state requires proof of residency in the state through various other documents.
The SAVE database houses information on legal immigrants such as green-card holders, refugees and naturalized citizens. The database can be used to determine an immigrant’s access to certain services. Reed wanted to access the program as one tool to look for immigrants who may have been registered to vote but shouldn’t have.
Other states, such as Florida, have gained access, prompting a pushback by advocacy groups who see the move as voter purging.
Reed was one of 11 Republican state officials who signed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in July asking for access to the SAVE program. Among those 11 Republicans is Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State in Kansas and advocate for strict immigration rules. Kobach helped write Arizona’s immigration law that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling this past summer.
“It’s difficult to understand what Sam Reed’s motivation is,” said Shankar Narayan, the ACLU’s Legislative Director. “If Sam is concerned about his moderate legacy, he shouldn’t be in the company of those other secretaries of state.”
Adopting a program such as SAVE is unnecessary, Narayan said. The reason is because non-citizen immigrants aren’t voting in Washington, he said.
A program like SAVE also scares off potential new voters, Narayan said.
“It’s difficult to see why someone would vote if they were a non-citizen because you could get deported for that offense,” he said.
But the secretary of state’s job is to ensure people who aren’t allowed to vote don’t vote, Ammons said.
He added that Reed began inquiring about the program years ago, which would be one of several tools used to determine the status of voters. They point to the 2004 gubernatorial election, where a judge determined that 1,678 people ineligible to vote — such as felons and the dead — voted.
“We don’t think it’s about politics, we think it’s about proper election administration,” Ammons said.