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ADAMS: It’s Time for Only Citizens to Vote in Texas

The voter fraud conviction of Texas resident and Mexican national Rosa Maria Ortega should make it clear we need citizenship verification in voter registration. Over and over, Austin considers bills that would keep ineligible voters from the ballot box—only to see them die quiet deaths in committee. That can’t happen anymore.

State Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano) and Representative Mike Schofield (R-Houston) have introduced companion bills that would require documentary proof of U.S. citizenship when a Texas resident decides to register to vote. Items like valid passports, birth certificates, and naturalization papers would be presented within a reasonable window of time for registration to be complete.

The Ortega case perfectly demonstrates the necessity of these bills. The voter registration process is one of the remaining aspects of elections that still rely on the honor system. Before she voted “five times between 2004 and 2014” as Attorney General Ken Paxton notes, there were multiple attempts at voter registration. The Texas registration form merely asks, “are you a United States citizen?”

The honor system failed with Ortega and is failing across America. Unfortunately, this problem was created by the Motor Voter law in 1993 which made the failing honor system federal law.

When residing in Dallas County, Ortega checked “Yes” on the form and cast multiple ballots. She subsequently relocated to Tarrant County and changed her answer, later complaining that she had no trouble voting in the past. She was caught by chance.

Many, many more are not.

There aren’t any high-tech immigration databases being used to catch ineligible voters. The ones that do exist, Texas has not used. Don’t count on local law enforcement to communicate with federal immigration agents, especially in “sanctuary” jurisdictions like Dallas and Austin, either.

HB 1079 and SB 136 provide a way to fix the problem.

We’ve presented evidence in federal court showing  how 13 prospective voters in Houston registered when they should have been stopped. Four applicants actually checked the “No” box on the form, saying plainly they were not citizens. Six others checked both “Yes” and “No” on the form, yet were registered. Others didn’t answer the question at all, but were registered anyway.

I’ve personally sued counties in south Texas where there were more registrants on the rolls than adult citizens alive. Naturally, they weren’t using all the tools available to detect alien registrations.

Critics of these bills are almost certain to travel down familiar paths. Leftists will argue that having to provide proof of citizenship is the return of Jim Crow. Opponents could not be further from the truth. It costs nothing to obtain a copy of a birth certificate for the purpose of receiving a voter identification card. The Texas Department of State Health Services would only need to expand its administrative rule to cover transactions related to voter registration.

Mexican transplants in the Lone Star eligible to vote came from a country that requires proof of citizenship to join the voter registry. A photo voter ID is also required to cast a ballot in Mexico. The purported victims of any citizenship verification effort will in fact be familiar with the process and have the necessary documents at the ready.

The only people who will suffer from citizenship verification laws are ineligible non-citizens who try to vote in our elections.

Just electing a new President does not fix the problems with the integrity of our elections. Washington isn’t the solution when it comes to election integrity anyhow—nor should it be.

If Texas’ voters want to see free and fair elections, they must demand them from Austin.

J. Christian Adams is the President and General Counsel for the Public Interest Legal Foundation and a former Justice Department lawyer.

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