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June 16, 2012
‘Their citizenship is not something … we would not have any way of knowing that’
A nationwide voter-registration effort encouraging participation by minorities effectively is encouraging noncitizens to vote.
The Washington, D.C.-based Voter Participation Center is using large mailing lists from commercial and nonprofit organizations to send voter registration forms to people they believe have been underrepresented in the political process.
“The mission of the VPC is to boost the civic engagement of unmarried women, people of color and 18-29 year olds – the three demographic groups who comprise the Rising American Electorate,” the VPC says.
“These Americans make up 53 percent of the voting-eligible population and are responsible for almost all of the U.S. population growth in recent years, but were only 42 percent of the 2010 electorate and 47 percent in 2008,” the organization explains.
However, noncitizens are also receiving the forms, which worries legal analysts and voter groups like Grassfire Nation that are campaigning for voter ID laws.
VPC Chief Operating Officer Gail Kitch said the potential for voter fraud and citizenship status is not the group’s concern.
“That’s not really the issue,” she said. “I couldn’t answer that question based on the level at which we’re involved. I mean, their citizenship is not something … we would not have any way of knowing that.”
Kitch added that her organization is relying on the integrity of those who receive the applications.
“I think the person themselves, the person who is receiving the form, has the obligation. We’re just sending the form; we’re not even registering people to vote,” she said.
“This is not issue we’re addressing,” she said. “In other words, is this person actually a U. S. citizen?”
Citizenship status is an issue for many Americans, and even some non-U. S. citizens who have received the mailing.
A Japanese permanent legal resident of the U. S. who received a VPC application, and who asked not to be named, says she was surprised to get the mailing.
“Why did they send this to me unless they want me to illegally register to vote?” the Japanese woman asked.
“I’ve been turned down for jury duty after returning the summons with the noncitizen block checked,” she said. “The city’s census records that I’m not an American citizen.”
“What other reason could they have for still sending me the application unless they’re hoping I’ll register anyway?” she asked. “They’re encouraging people to cheat, and this is only going to corrupt the process and make honest elections almost impossible.”
The Japanese woman’s statements raise the issue of how the Voter Participation Center gets its names.
The group’s website says it has a huge pool of names to draw from for the mail effort. Kitch said they get the lists from “vendors.”
“We don’t have a database; we acquire names from lists that are provided by vendors,” she said. “The folks we get the names from are commercial list vendors – the kind of folks who do the Publishers Clearing House.”
She added, “We work with people who have names who would fit within the groups we’re talking about, the Rising American Electorate. As far as folks being registered, our vendors are always checking so we are relying on our list vendors, and we’re doing what we can, to do what they can to make sure as much as possible the registration status of anyone we’re mailing to.”
The group’s “State and National Partner’s” page lists groups that are working with the VPC in the voter drive.
“The VPC also has a variety of national partners including, the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (LCVEF), Project Vote, US Action Education Fund and the NAACP,” the website said.
However, Kitch would not say if her group is concerned about whether noncitizens can return the forms.
“I appreciate this, but that question is so far beyond anything I can imagine. I guess the hypothetical thing brings me up a bit short,” Kitch said.
The organization was involved in a registration solicitation controversy during the last presidential election.
At the time, Page Gardner, identified by Voter Participation as its founder, wrote about robocalls that were made to North Carolina residents who had been sent voter registration applications.
“These calls were our sincere attempt to encourage voter registration for those not registered for the general election this fall,” Gardner said. “We understand North Carolina’s primary registration effort deadline was April 11, (other than those participating in early voting who may register and vote at the same time this week). We apologize for any confusion our calls may have caused. Our intent and purpose was solely to call attention to the registration applications we hope will be completed and returned to the Board of Elections office making thousands more North Carolinians participants in one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.”