By Elizabeth Llorente | Fox News
California this spring will begin automatically registering adults who obtain or renew a driver’s license to vote, including potentially large numbers of noncitizens and immigrants illegally living in the state.
The only way drivers who say they are legal won’t have their information sent to state voter rolls under the latest implementation of the California Motor Voter Act is if they opt out — which opens the door to the potential of widespread voter fraud, according to critics of the plan.
“You’re setting the state up for a disaster. They don’t seem to have a process in place to verify that people are who they say they are. It’s a free-for-all, a process that can be manipulated,” said Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, a national organization that unsuccessfully pressed Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the law allowing automatic voter registration.
You have an environment in California where citizenship is treated as a ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ situation. You’re setting the state up for a disaster.
California has since 2015 granted driver’s licenses to immigrants living illegally in the state. And an estimated 1 million of those immigrants are believed to have obtained a license by the end of last year. Under the new system, which begins April 1, anyone who already has a valid license and applies for renewal in person or by mail could potentially be added to the voter registration rolls by claiming they are legal.
Linda Paine, cofounder of the nonpartisan Election Integrity Project of California, said her organization has visited DMV offices to observe how workers handle undocumented immigrants. She said the visits, and meetings with state officials, left her with little confidence about any safeguards to prevent illegal voter registration.
“There are thousands and thousands of DMV workers across our huge state,” Paine told Fox News. “They’re not all trained. There’s no actual protection to prevent noncitizens from being added to voter rolls. It’s not even that people who are ineligible want to be registered. They may not know that they have to select ‘Opt out.’”
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the state’s top election official, has in the past maintained there are safeguards in place to ensure ineligible people aren’t registered to vote. Undocumented immigrants obtain a special driver’s license that notes on it “Federal limits apply.”
When asked for specific examples of such safeguards, Padilla did not immediately provide them.
Anyone who registers to vote at the DMV must attest under penalty of perjury that they meet eligibility requirements–including citizenship.
California’s license also indicates it is not to be used for identification outside California, and is valid only for operating a motor vehicle.
In response for clarification of the new policy, Secretary of State spokesman Sam Mahood said in a statement: “As is already required by federal law, anyone who registers to vote at the DMV must attest under penalty of perjury that they meet eligibility requirements — including citizenship. Moreover, under state law, the DMV is prohibited from sending to the Secretary of State any information from persons who apply for an AB60 California driver license.”
AB60 refers to the 2015 state legislation that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Some argue that voter fraud concerns are overblown. Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, or CCC, a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy group, expressed confidence the new registration process would not open the door to widespread fraud.
“There’s a real interest [by all parties] in making sure that there are clear signals when people are filling out a DMV form,” Feng told Fox News. “They’re asked if they’re 18, if they’re U.S. citizens. They don’t move on to the voter registration if they’re not eligible.”
Feng, argued most immigrants would not want to risk their chances of legalizing their status or, in the case of people who have a green card, becoming naturalized. “My aunt was not a U.S. citizen for many years, and there was nothing she would do that would jeopardize her status here.”
Feng said the main goal of the new registration process is to make it easier for people who are eligible to vote to register. “There are 5 to 6 million eligible voters in California who are not registered to vote,” Feng said.
CCC was one of several organizations that filed a federal lawsuit against the DMV last year, saying that it made it difficult for people to register to vote by not making it part of the application to renew or obtain licenses.
Claude Arnold, a retired special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles for several years, told Fox News that in California and in Arizona, where he also worked during his 27 years with the agency, he and his agents “routinely caught people trying to cross the border with fake voter registration cards.”
The point is, he said, there’s an interest in illegally registering to vote and therefore, enforceable safeguards are vital.