On Tuesday, the Dhillon Law Group, where I serve as an election law attorney, filed a lawsuit against the state of California. This lawsuit alleges that California is violating federal law by not ensuring that only citizens are on the state’s voting rolls. Three California voters brought this lawsuit: Roxanne Hoge, Ali Mazarei, and Corrin Rankin. Both Hoge and Mazarei are legal immigrants who earned the privilege to vote by becoming citizens of the United States.
In 1993, a Democrat-controlled Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). This law mandated that states create more options for individuals to register to vote. This law also placed restrictions on the states on how they were to maintain their voter rolls. Under the NVRA, the state has a duty to regularly maintain the voter rolls by removing those individuals who had died or moved away.
The NVRA also requires a state’s secretary of state to determine the eligibility of each applicant before placing him or her on its voter rolls. Eligibility throughout the NVRA means that there is citizenship. Thus, the NVRA requires the states to ensure that someone is a citizen prior to placing him or her on the voter rolls.
State records show that before the California secretary of state’s office places an applicant on the voter rolls, it checks with state administrative records to ensure the individual is not a felon and that the voter application is not a duplicate. The state admits that it does not review state administrative records to determine if an applicant is a citizen of the United States. If California does not even bother to check the citizenship status of voter applicants, it can continue to claim to the media that there is no evidence of non-citizens being placed on its voter rolls.
Last year, the California secretary of state admitted he had no idea how many non-citizens were on the voter rolls. Earlier this year, a state audit was released that showed non-citizens were not only registered to vote, but had voted in California elections. These two news stories made it clear that California did not use state administrative records to ensure that only citizens were being registered to vote. Rather than follow federal law and make a determination of citizenship before placing an applicant on the voter rolls, the state simply waits for a scandal to break before responding by removing a non-citizen from its voter rolls. This is improper.
The California secretary of state has claimed that there is no state administrative record that tracks citizenship of Californians. This is clearly not true, since a state audit was able to determine that non-citizens were not only on the voter rolls but had also actually voted. Contrary to what the secretary of state wants the media to believe, there are multiple state administrative records that contain the citizenship status of voters. Every applicant for a state driver’s license is required to provide proof of identity. These proof-of-identity documents include citizenship status. If an individual cannot prove that he/she is lawfully a United States citizens, a driver’s license is still doled out but that individual is supposedly not simultaneously also registered to vote.
By bringing this lawsuit, the plaintiffs desire to hold the secretary of state’s feet to the fire. It is time that California be required to follow federal law and ensure that everyone who is on the voter rolls is actually eligible to vote. This lawsuit is necessary because California has a bad habit of thumbing its nose at federal election laws and dragging its feet as long as possible. When Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 — which required states to establish a statewide voter registration list — California was the last state to comply. It did not do so until 2016.
Earlier this year, Judicial Watch won a major victory against California requiring the state to follow federal law in removing from the voter rolls those who have died and those who have moved. California had chosen to simply not send out the required notices, and the voter rolls were thus bloated with ineligible voters.
Californians deserve the assurance that the state is following federal law and ensuring that only citizens are on the voter rolls. By its own admissions, the state is not verifying voter applicants’ citizenship status. Since California has claimed that it is not doing anything wrong, this lawsuit had to be brought to force California to follow the NVRA.
Mark Meuser is an election law attorney with the Dhillon Law Group, which is based in California. You can follow Mark Meuser on Twitter @markmeuser.