U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, introduced a bill Thursday that, if passed, would require proof of citizenship for voter registration in federal elections.
Gibbs, representing Ohio’s 7th Congressional District which includes parts of Lorain County, brought the Ensuring American Voters Act before the 115th Congress to “bolster the security and integrity of federal elections.” The bill, which would amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, would prohibit a state from registering someone to vote unless that person provides proof they are a U.S. citizen.
“This is a matter of protecting the integrity of our elections,” Gibbs said in a statement. “We have made substantial investments in protecting our voting systems from foreign influence or corruption. It is time to take steps to stop illegal voting before it happens, rather than dealing with the consequences after the fact.”
Acceptable documents to prove citizenship, according to the bill, include a certified birth certificate issued by a state or local government, a valid U.S. passport, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by the Secretary of State, or a naturalization certificate or certificate of citizenship issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Those registering to vote could present photocopies of these documents, and mail-in voter registration would still be available.
“Voting is one of the most fundamental responsibilities for American citizens,” Gibbs said. “An informed American electorate holds the nation’s future in its hands. Only U.S. citizens should be voting in federal elections, yet there are gaps in the voter registration systems that can be exploited. A dozen states and the District of Columbia give illegal aliens the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses, with eight of those entities offering voter registration at the time of obtaining a license.”
In Ohio, voters must provide their date of birth and a valid driver’s license, state identification card number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number, according to Lorain County Board of Elections director Paul Adams. Election officials cross-reference voters’ driver’s license or Social Security number with the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Security office, he said.
Adams said he hadn’t read the Ensuring American Voters Act, but said voting by non-U.S. citizens in Ohio is not a widespread problem. He said while a 2017 investigation by Ohio Secretary of State John Husted’s office concluded 126 instances of non-U.S. citizens casting ballots in the state, of the more than 8 million registered voters in Ohio, election officials have other issues to tend to.
“We would love to see that number be zero, but at this time we are looking at certainly a number of other priorities other than the 126 out of 8 million,” he said.
In a 2017 statement, Husted said while the problem wasn’t widespread, it was still important to hold people accountable.
“In light of the national discussion about illegal voting it is important to inform our discussions with facts,” Husted said. “The fact is voter fraud happens, it is rare and when it happens, we hold people accountable.”
A more pressing concern in Lorain County, and other counties in Ohio, is security, Adams said. The Board of Elections is working to address cyber threats and other security concerns leading up to the November election.
The individuals identified in Husted’s investigation were referred to state and federal law enforcement. Officials used BMV records to confirm individuals’ citizenship status.
“I have a responsibility to preserve the integrity of Ohio’s elections system,” Husted said in a news release following the 2017 report. “When you consider that in Ohio we have had 112 elections decided by one vote or tied in the last three years, every case of illegal voting must be taken seriously and elections officials must have every resource available to them to respond accordingly.”
Gibbs also referenced those close-call elections, citing a reported 199 races or issues decided by one vote or tied in recent years in Ohio.
Adams agreed that in local elections single ballots can cast the deciding vote, but that it is less of an issue at the state or federal level.
Following the announced legislation, Ken Harbaugh, Democratic candidate for Gibbs’ congressional seat, released a statement showing little concern for the likelihood the bill would pass into law.
“In eight years in Congress, Bob Gibbs has never introduced a single piece of legislation that has been passed into law,” he said. “Looking over what he proposed today, I think it is safe to say his losing streak will continue.”
Arizona and Kansas have tried to enact laws similar to Gibbs’, and both were challenged in court.
A 2013 federal ruling had determined that states could not require proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections.
Arizona had set up a two-tier system, according to an Associated Press article. Residents could register to vote in just federal elections using the federal form, without providing proof of citizenship. That information would then be cross-checked with the state’s BMV records and, if the voter was shown to be a U.S. citizen, they would be registered to vote in all elections, including state and local. On the other hand, residents using the state’s voter registration form were required to provide proof of citizenship and were not registered to vote in any election without it. Earlier this year, officials settled the lawsuit, allowing those that use the state form to be registered to vote in federal elections, even if they don’t provide proof of citizenship.
In Kansas, its attempted legislation was just ruled a violation of the Voting Rights Act and 14th Amendment by Chief District Judge Julie Robinson of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. In her ruling, she stated the bill’s attempt to prevent voter fraud did not outweigh the burden placed on eligible voter registration applicants by requiring the documents.
Lorain County Democratic Party Chairman Tony Giardini recognized the burden proof-of-citizenship laws can place on voters, be it a simple inconvenience to obtain a birth certificate from the health department, or a larger hurdle when records are missing.
He said that some people born in rural communities and/or by midwives, “even as little as 40 or 50 years ago,” might not have proof that they were born in the U.S. because the birth was never properly documented.
Giardini also said a passport could be prohibitive because it is an expensive document to get, and one probably not many residents have.
He said the bill is a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist” and called for elected officials to try to promote voting, rather than have a low voting turnout in the primaries determine the general election later on.
Local officials agree with Giardini’s concerns.
While Elyria City Councilman Marcus Madison said he hadn’t read the bill, he recognized the importance voter registration efforts hold in the city’s 5th Ward.
“Myself and many members of my ward stand on the shoulders of leaders who worked and marched in favor of voters rights and voter protection legislation,” Madison said. “In this time where many of our elections have less than 50 percent participation, it is interesting that there is a seemingly politically motivated effort to help reduce voter participation even more.”