Scott Gessler: Database used to find illegal voters can have "lag time," feds say

We recently spoke with Sheila Reiner, the clerk and recorder for Mesa County -- about another matter -- and asked her how the process went of reviewing the potential non-citizen names from Gessler's office. She was sent information for six registered voters and she says one of them was a citizen, because his parents naturalized and he was a minor at the time.

"So...he didn't check out with the database," she explains.

Reiner says she is concerned at how voters in the state view the elections process when the Secretary of State's office uses data that might not be solid for this initiative.

"I think this hurt voter confidence in our system," she says. "It raised questions in people's minds about how valid their vote is. In a highly charged, emotional election, it's just one more thing. Until we get some actual proof that these checks are working, I would prefer good data."

Alan Kaplan photo.jpeg
Courtesy of Alan Kaplan
Alan Kaplan, an immigration advocate flagged by Gessler's office.
Reiner says she believes these non-citizen checks make voters concerned about fraud, and also could confuse legitimate voters.

"It's fired up the people who got the notices and I think it's also fired up people who believed that we have thousands and thousands of voting [who are not citizens]," she says. "The thing I keep going back to, and I have to, is I just don't have any proof yet. I don't have anything here in my county that indicates there's a problem."

Gessler's office maintains that he has solid evidence that there are immigrants in the state who have voted illegally -- and that more could be committing fraud this cycle. His office, he repeatedly has said, is committed to making it easy for people to vote but also ensuring that elections are fair, accurate and clean.

He and his staff have also repeatedly said they trust the information they are getting from the federal records.

In a recent interview with us, he said: "I'm pretty confident that most people...[flagged] are non-citizens. We recognize the data isn't perfect.... If they are a citizen and vote, that's fine and we encourage it."

Another argument in response to concerns about the data is that his office isn't directly kicking people off the rolls, but merely alerting them that records show they may be incorrectly registered. Gessler says the letters these citizens receive are in no way intimidating, and if they are citizens, all they have to do is send in proof verifying it.

In response to the comments from the Department of Homeland Security about lag times, Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge says in an e-mail to us: "We've communicated with each voter identified as a non-citizen by the federal government, that he or she can still show proof of citizenship to make up for that 'lag' time."

Asked if the federal government believes SAVE records are a good system for states to check citizenship status of those on the voter rolls, DHS' Upton writes: "SAVE provides a service for federal, state and local agencies to confirm the status of non-citizens as well as naturalized and derived citizens for the purpose of issuing benefits."

More from our Politics archive: "True the Vote promoting false information, possible intimidation, says Common Cause"

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"SAVE provides a service for federal, state and local agencies to confirm the status of non-citizens as well as naturalized and derived citizens for the purpose of issuing benefits."


The database likely errs to the side of non-citizenship because of it's original purpose, to determining eligibility for benefits.  It was never designed to be accurate or timely enough to determine a citizens RIGHT to vote.  Requiring additional effort/proof from a targeted subset of the population is OK when applying for aid.  It is not OK when you are just trying to exercise your constitutional right to vote.

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