Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 25, 2012

Editorial: SOS playing politics


---- — Michigan voters need to apply a little logic — and a boatload of skepticism — to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson's recent claim that there could be as many as 4,000 noncitizens on Michigan's voter rolls.

It's exactly the same kind of claim made by Republican election officials in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Iowa. All have proven to be wildly inflated.

The big Republican search in Colorado and Florida came up virtually empty — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all registered voters in either state were found to be possibly illegal.

n Last year, Colorado Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler estimated that 11,805 noncitizens were on the rolls. That number dwindled to 141, and Gessler later said 35 of them have voted in the past.

n In Florida, the Division of Elections said as many as 180,000 registered voters weren't citizens and verified that 207 weren't; that's .001 percent of the state's 11.4 million registered voters.

n In North Carolina, the elections board found 12 instances in which a noncitizen had voted. North Carolina has 6.4 million voters.

n Iowa's Division of Criminal Investigation filed election misconduct charges against three noncitizens who voted in 2010 and 2011.

Given those numbers, Johnson's claim of 4,000 noncitizens will certainly dwindle, to perhaps a couple dozen or less.

The 4,000 estimate, according to the Detroit News, is based on access to citizenship information for just one-fifth of the population, all the federal government will give her. The results of a "very tedious" analysis of 58,000 driver's licenses and state-issued identification cards found 963 noncitizens registered to vote.

A cross-reference of those noncitizens with voting records found 54 have a voting history, Johnson said. Using census estimates that 305,000 noncitizens live in Michigan, Johnson's office "extrapolated" that 5,064 could be noncitizens and then lowered its estimate to 4,000.

Now there's a number you can take to the bank.

What Johnson has not said, of course, is that none of those suspected noncitizen voters who turned up in her "extrapolation" has been looked at any further. Given what has happened in other states when an honest accounting is done, 4,000 will be a laughable number — if this was anything to laugh about.

Johnson is determined, it seems, to play the political intimidation card whatever the outcome.

Even after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a portion of an election law that required voters to swear they are citizens before getting a ballot, Johnson ordered that such a box be put on ballots anyway; she pulled back about halfway through primary election day. She now says the box will appear on ballots in the general election Nov. 6.

Some voting rights advocates, labor unions and citizens sued Johnson in federal court Monday, challenging her authority to ask voters to affirm their citizenship. Some clerks have said they won't put the question on ballots.

Johnson claims the "discovery" of 4,000 potential noncitizen voters — which is no such thing, of course — justifies her insistence that the state's 7.34 million registered voters be forced to affirm their citizenship if they want to vote.

"We have a problem. We need to fix it," Johnson told the News.

If there is a problem, it lies within the Secretary of State's office, where people register to vote. They're asked then to affirm their citizenship, and if the SOS registers them anyway the problem lies within her office.

This is politics in its most unpure form. Johnson and other newly elected Republican secretaries of state are following a national script, almost to the letter: make an inflated claim, do a little fear mongering, and, most importantly, change the subject. It's easier to talk about phantom noncitizen voters than the state's myriad problems.

Johnson first ordered the citizenship question for the February Republican presidential primary. A Freedom of Information Act request filed by state Democrats showed that a whopping four of the 1.2 million voters may have been noncitizens. Four. Maybe.