February 11, 1998
The Administration strongly supports protecting the integrity of elections
and agrees that voter eligibility determinations must be conducted in a
non-discriminatory fashion. For the principal reasons explained below,
however, H.R. 1428 fails to achieve those goals. Thus, the Administration
strongly opposes enactment of H.R. 1428. If this bill as introduced were
presented to the President, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of
Social Security would recommend that he veto it.
First, H.R. 1428 would be so cumbersome as to likely raise discriminatory barriers to the right to vote for many qualified U.S. citizens, particularly minority and elderly citizens. Second, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) already routinely cooperates with State and local officials in the execution of their duties, including, in appropriate cases, duties relating to elections. Third, the bill depends upon data systems not suited for voter verification purposes.
The bill poses important civil rights problems. In 1986, Congress sought to guard against employment discrimination by requiring that the identity and immigration status of all employees be verified. H.R. 1428 lacks this safeguard. Some, but not all, voters may be subject to citizenship verification under H.R. 1428 without regard to any underlying information indicating that a person is not a citizen. The potential for discriminatory abuse, particularly against minorities, is clear.
Furthermore, verification for citizenship, as opposed to immigration status, is highly burdensome on local and State election officials, as well as Federal agencies. Even if the system envisioned by the bill were workable, voter registration would be greatly impeded because of the administrative burden in verifying everyone's citizenship. H.R. 1428 would render meaningless existing voter registration deadlines under State laws and thwart the protections of the National Voter Registration Act and Voting Rights Act. In addition, there is already a citizenship question on the voter application forms of all States, in most (if not all) cases carrying a perjury penalty for false statements. Existing cooperation and assistance furnished to State and local election officials are far more effective than the system that would be mandated by H.R. 1428.
Finally, the system mandated by the bill will not result in accurate and timely information. The Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot confirm citizenship based on its records. Of its records created before 1981, 269 million reflect only unverified information on citizenship status, and newer records are not routinely updated for changes in citizenship status. Only about 10 percent of INS records contain Social Security numbers, and SSA does not maintain and cannot supply Alien Registration numbers. A forced linking of two databases, which were not designed for the purpose of voter eligibility determinations, would result in the denial of the right to vote for U.S. citizens.