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Some non-citizens and illegal immigrants are registered to vote in N.Y., election officials say

"The state automatically registers them to vote unless they check a small box saying that no, they don’t want to get registered to vote,” says the Suffolk County elections commissioner.

Published: September 10, 2020 7:09pm

Updated: September 10, 2020 11:34pm

Todd Valentine, New York Board of Elections co-executive director, and Nick LaLota, Suffolk County elections commissioner, said some non-citizens and illegal immigrants incorrectly get registered to vote in the state of New York.

New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin said he's aware of some non-citizens in Suffolk County who voted in previous elections. During a mail-in voting discussion organized by House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney Davis, Zeldin asked how to prevent this situation from happening.  

"We don't have the proper amount of rules and laws and regulations to fetter out that sort of nefarious activity," LaLota said.

LaLota explained that undocumented immigrants are able to apply for driver's licenses in the state, which makes it easier for them to mistakenly become registered eligible voters.

"The state automatically registers them to vote unless they check a small box saying that no, they don't want to get registered to vote," LaLota said. "I would presume some of that happens intentionally, probably a larger amount happens unintentionally, but whatever the case is, the end result is a large amount of folks who are not in our country legally getting put on the rolls."

According to the New York DMV website, "the DMV does not approve or deny voter registration applications," but they "send the application to the County or City Board of Elections for their review."

LaLota said his ability to find and remove non-citizens from voter files on the county level was constrained. "I don't have any tools," he said. "I'm not allowed to, as an elections commissioner, ask anybody from the U.S. Department of State or anybody else, who has citizenship, who has a Social Security number or anything else, so I have no tools here, congressman."

Todd Valentine, New York Board of Elections co-executive director, said some non-citizens get incorrectly registered at the DMV due to the automatic voter registration system.

"If any voter comes in and checks that they are not a citizen, they don't get to the voter registration application," Valentine said.

"If they don't check the box, and say they are a citizen," he added, "it is going to go through and get that [voter] application and just as you pointed out, it's very difficult in the back end because there is no list of citizens that's ever been given to any state or county across the entire country."

Valentine said some states have asked the federal government for a list of citizens to help them locate ineligible registered voters, such as non-citizens, but they have been denied.

"Right now, we're reliant solely upon the voter to check the appropriate box on the application that yes, I am a citizen, and if they don't check the box — 'Hey, you forgot' — it's an incomplete application — that's the one good thing DMV does," he said.

Valentine explained that the current system relies on the honesty of non-citizens and illegal immigrants to indicate that they aren't citizens during the voter registration process at the DMV.

"It's very difficult, if there's no other way to validate that in any manner," he said.

In response to the statements from election officials, Zeldin said he wants every eligible voter to vote, but ineligible individuals should not be voting.

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