WATERTOWN — Local Democrats are pushing back against statements by Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, that a new law, the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses will also allow them to vote.
The law, better known as the Greenlight Act, was signed into law earlier this week. It the variety of acceptable documents for applying for drivers licenses to include foreign, valid passports and driver’s licenses, although the licenses will be stamped with a label indicating they are not valid for federal use, such as flying. It does not give voting rights to undocumented immigrants.
“There is no doubt in my mind this measure could foster voter fraud across the state,” Mr. Walczyk wrote in a statement after the Assembly passed the bill. “There are consumer facing devices in DMVs throughout New York where you can push ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to register to vote, and by putting non-residents in that position and giving them that option, there would be some severe consequences.”
Jefferson County Democratic Chair Jon Hall said he was concerned with Mr. Walczyk’s statements, and sent an email with an extended statement from Babette Hall, Democratic Commissioner of the Jefferson County Board of Elections. Ms. Hall responded to comments Mr. Walzcyk made on the floor of the assembly on June 13 about hearing concerns from his local Board of Elections.
“As the Democratic Commissioner of Elections, I would like to clarify that the concerns did not come from me,” Ms. Hall wrote. “The New York Voter Registration Form’s first question is: “Are you a citizen of the U.S? Yes or No.” If you answered No, you cannot register to vote. Signing the affidavit at the bottom of the application, affirms that the information is true, that you are a citizen of the U.S.”
Ms. Hall said the Board of Elections processes any registration applications and can purge any that do not meet voting requirements.
“I am confident that the NY DMVs will have a procedure in processing undocumented immigrants’ information and ensuring that it is not transferred to the Board of Elections,” Ms. Hall continued. “I am confident that our staff will continue to check that each voter registration application is marked “yes,” affirming that he or she is a citizen of the United States. I wish some of our elected officials had the same confidence in us.”
Ms. Hall also disputed Mr. Walczyk’s assertions that he has heard from local boards of election that non-citizens have asked to be removed from voting rolls to avoid prosecution after mistakenly registering.
“The Jefferson County Board of Elections have had NONE of these calls and cannot recall ever having a call of this nature,” Ms. Hall wrote. “These scare tactics are not helping to insure the safe of everyone in NYS.”
The Times spoke to the other Republican and Democratic comissioners in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties; all of them said they had never personally received a call from a non-citizen who accidentally registered to vote and wanted to be removed from the rolls.
Mr. Walczyk asked one of his colleagues, Douglass M. Smith, R-Holbrook, to speak to the Times. Mr. Smith testified during the debate on the bill about documented cases of non-citizens registering and occasionally voting.
“The Board of Elections down in Suffolk County, they get about a dozen calls a week” from people who have accidentally registered, Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith also forwarded a package of documents related to nine non-citizens who had registered and voted, then requested that their registration be removed so they could move forward with a naturalization process.
“The nine cases were people who actually voted,” Mr. Smith said. “I don’t see how you accidentally vote.”
Mr. Smith said he was not pushing for some kind of electronic verification for voting, but said that this legislation would aggrevate the issue he is already hearing from his board of election.
“We already have this problem,” Mr. Smith said.
Research into non-citizen voting points to it being a fairly uncommon issue, although it does occur.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan progressive institute at the New York University Law School, interviewed officials in 42 electoral districts from 12 states after the 2016 election, Election officials reported that 0.0001 of votes cast in that election were from non-citizen. The report does mention voter registration while filling out a drivers license application as one source of non-citizen registration.
Jude Seymour, Ms. Hall’s Republican counterpart, said that he had not seen her comments. When asked his opinion, he independently mentioned the voter registration form.
“The first question is, ‘are you a United States Citizen?’” he said, adding that there are penalties enumerated at the bottom for lying on the form. “Do I think undocumented immigrants are going to register to vote and subject themselves to those penalties? I don’t.”
Mr. Seymour did say that enforcement of the provision is largely on the honor system. As for whether more people will, through confusion or bad intent, register to vote through Department of Motor Vehicle registration, Mr. Seymnour said he was not sure.
“I’m not familiar enough with the DMV system,” he said.
Jennie H. Bacon, the Democratic commissioner for St. Lawrence County, agreed with Ms. Hall.
“I completely agree with Babette,” she said. “New York State doesn’t just come out willy-nilly with procedure.”
Ms. Bacon said she had not spoken to Mr. Walczyk about the issue.
Ms. Bacon’s Republican colleague, Thomas A. Nichols, is firmly opposed to the bill.
“The risk of illegal aliens getting into the voter system is very real,” he said.
While non-citizens could always commit perjury and lie about their citizenship, Mr. Nichols said having a driver’s license — the “gold standard” of identification when registering to vote — would “increase the likelihood, or the temptation.”
“I’ve spoken to (Mr. Walczyk) numerous times about this issue,” Mr. Nichols said.
The fact that the licenses will be stamped with “not for federal use” does not mean people cannot use them for state registration, Mr. Nichols said. Mr. Nichols compares the situation to giving everyone a Ferrari, stopping state troopers from using radar to track speed, giving them bicycles, and then trusting that everyone will stay under 65 mph.
All the commissioners in both counties said they had never personally received a call from a non-citizen who accidentally registered to vote and wanted to be removed from the rolls.