Immigration database target of latest Texas anti-fraud efforts


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Posted on July 22, 2012 at 5:30 PM

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's a grave thought -- the dead casting votes to swing an election.

A recent report by the Pew Center on the States found more than 1.8 million dead people registered to vote nationwide, yet verified reports of people casting ballots in their names are rare.

While graveyards full of zombie voters aren't likely to rise up and walk into a polling location, legitimate questions have been raised over fraudulent mail-in ballots, which election officials point to as the most likely area for potential fraud.

When it comes to dead voters in particular, Texas receives a notice from the Bureau of Vital Statistics when a resident is deceased. That information is entered into the voter registration records to ensure that they are no longer able to vote.

The latest anti-fraud efforts focus on those who may be registered to vote but shouldn't be, specifically undocumented immigrants.

Under Republican Governor Rick Scott, the state of Florida won access last week to the Department of Homeland Security's federal immigration database, allowing Florida election officials to purge non-citizens from the state voter roll.

This week Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade requested the same database for use by Texas. Rich Parsons, communications director for Andrade says immigration status is more difficult for state and local election officials to track because currently immigrants must first voluntarily identify themselves as undocumented.

"It essentially would be used to meet the mandate that the secretary of state has to maintain an accurate and secure voter registration list," said Parsons.

While supporters of the move characterize the database as a tool to assist in the office's legal responsibility to ensure a valid election, some see it as another tactic to frighten recent legal immigrants and drive down voter turnout in an election year.

"The State of Texas just had a full federal trial trying to prove that illegal voting exists, and they can't make their case," said Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Rebecca Acuna. "This is just another Republican hunt for the boogey man that does not exist."

"It's not a situation where we would take the voter registration list and mash it up against the database to determine anything," Parsons elaborated. "We envision it would be used on a case-by-case basis to help us determine someone's citizenship if that's in question."

"I think an illegal immigrant walking up to a state-officiated event that presumably, in their mind, would have police is the last thing they're going to do," one Austin voter told KVUE.

"They're coming over here illegally and taking our jobs for one, and now they're taking our voting rights," said another.

"Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars to try and disenfranchise Texans, we should be doing something about our abysmal voting turnout," said Acuna.

One state that's trying to make it easier for voters to register is Washington, which will soon become the first in the nation to offer eligible citizens the ability to register to vote through Facebook.

Residents would still be required to submit a state ID or driver's license number. Some states already offer online registration, but Washington's initiative would target the millions of state residents who regularly frequent the social networking site.

With November's presidential election looking ever tighter, it's safe to say the debate over alleged voter fraud won't be laid to rest any time soon.