Yesterday, Texas Secretary of State Esperanza "Hope" Andrade requested access to a federal database of immigration records as a way to ensure that voters are here legally. It's a little like putting border patrol agents at polling stations -- but without the threat of deportation, at least for now. This is Texas.
With her letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Texas joins a growing list of states seeking to compare voter rolls with DHS immigration records. The agency is deciding the requests on a case-by-case basis.
Florida was granted access to the database last week, having won a legal battle to determine whether the information could be used for the purpose. There, state officials will collect proof of citizenship from those they suspect may not be citizens, then they'll send it to the Department of Homeland Security, which will verify whether their information matches that of the state voting rolls.
Other right-leaning states quickly followed suit.
"We're just beginning to work out the details of how we might utilize access to the database," Texas Secretary of State spokesman Rich Parsons tells Unfair Park, calling it "just another tool to verify citizenship." When and how the database would help suss out illegal immigrants trying to vote is yet to be determined. For now, the Secretary of State is focused mainly on gaining access.
"We think this will address a problem that doesn't really exist and will create confusion about a supposed or alleged fraud that -- if it happens at all -- is so miniscule that it has no impact," Carlos Duarte of advocacy organization, Texas Director of Mi Familia Vota, told the Houston Chronicle. "This is happening so close to the election that the actual effect is going to be disenfranchising people who otherwise should be eligible to vote."
The database at the heart of the matter is the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program. SAVE, as it's called, "helps federal, state and local benefit-issuing agencies, institutions, and licensing bureaus determine the immigration status of benefit applicants so only those entitled to benefits receive them," according to the website.
The database, however, does not include those who have never applied for immigration benefits. And, if a person is flagged as a possible illegal immigrant even though they were actually born here, the SAVE information would serve no purpose to ensure their right to vote. The database was not compiled for this purpose, and therefore its utility here is quite limited.
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Like Texas' fight for a voter ID law, this effort to use SAVE to verify legal status aims at stamping out the voter fraud some politicians say is rampant. Critics say widespread fraud is a figment of the Republican imagination. Texas is in an ongoing battle with the Department of Justice as to whether its voter ID law would significantly disenfranchise minority voters.
Last month, Paul Burka at Texas Monthly wrote an interesting article about the longterm future of the Republican Party and the threat of the growing Latino population who typically vote Democrat (when they vote at all). It was based on his conversation with Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, who stressed the importance of Republicans wooing Latino voters.
"When I walked in the door as chairman in 2010, the party had no Hispanic outreach program," Munisteri told Burka. The article goes on to note that a recent GOP gathering in Abilene, Munisteri preached, "The key to Republican success in the future is to reach out to Hispanic, African American, and Asian voters ... The failure to do that will result, in the not-too-distant future, in this turning from a Republican state to a swing state."
It seems Republican leaders aren't taking Munisteri's lesson to heart but are instead making up their own lesson: If we scare the shit out of Latino voters or make the voting painstakingly bureaucratic, they'll never do it and we won't have to worry about it.