Governor Shields Non-Citizen Voters in North Carolina

Vetoing a bill to remove non-citizens from North Carolina’s voter rolls, Gov. Roy Cooper has kept the door open for more electoral mischief in the Tar Heel State.

Cooper, a Democrat, last week vetoed Senate Bill 250, which would have challenged the registrations of people who got out of jury duty because they were not citizens.

“The law already prevents non-citizens from voting and has legitimate mechanisms to remove them from the rolls,” the governor declared in his veto message.

Cooper’s claim is disputed by election-integrity groups that are suing the state to produce a full accounting of voter-registration records.

Non-citizen voters in the Tar Heel State hit the headlines last year when 19 foreign nationals were indicted on charges of illegally casting ballots. The individuals came from Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines, Panama, Grenada, Guyana, Japan, Poland and other countries.

U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon said some of the illegal voters faced up to six years in federal prison and $350,000 fines. So far, the judge has meted out far lighter penalties. Four of the 19 defendants prosecuted thus far got $100 fines — less than a speeding ticket – and a fifth was ordered to pay $200.

Separately, a 2017 state report indicated that more than 100 foreign nationals were confirmed or suspected of holding illegal voter registrations in North Carolina, with 41 casting ballots. While these numbers aren’t large, and likely pale in comparison with other forms of election fraud, they point to holes in the voter-verification system.

“The governor’s veto is a major step backward,” said Logan Churchwell of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which continues to fight the state for access to voter information.

“Verifying voter eligibility happens in other states where agencies talk to each other and [non-citizen voters] are removed from the rolls,” he said, noting that systematic crosschecks are needed to ensure that registrations collected via Motor Voter and other means are legal and valid.

Under SB 250, election officials would contact registered voters who had been excused from jury duty for reasons of non-citizenship. Individuals who didn’t respond after 30 days’ notice would have been purged from the voter rolls.

Though the bill includes due-process provisions, Cooper asserted that it “creates a high risk of voter harassment and intimidation and could discourage citizens from voting.”

Jay DeLancy, founder of the Voter Integrity Project in North Carolina, said Cooper’s veto “means he cares more about non-citizen voters than about any lawful voters who helped elect him in 2016.”

“If the state already had procedures on the books that they were using to identify and remove non-citizen voters why are they still fighting in federal courts to withhold those procedures from public inspection?” DeLancy asked.

Because the North Carolina Legislature is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, DeLancy said there is “zero chance” that Cooper’s veto will be overridden.

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