Thursday, March 21, 2013

Election Commission rescinds plan to review voter citizenship

The Davidson County Election Commission today voted to rescind a motion they passed last month that would have examined the citizenship status of foreign born people who registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles and who used as a form of Id a green card or other documents that would lead one to suspect they may  not be citizens.

Legal immigrants who are not citizens can legally get drivers license. DMV workers are required to ask people when they are getting a drivers license if they are registered to vote and offer to register them. Election Commissioner Steve Abernathy expressed concern that many immigrants who may have limited English skills, when asked it they would like to register, may be intimidated by a person in uniform asking them if they want to register and may assume they are supposed to do so.

The argument against the proposed study was that it was constitutionally suspect to only look at the registration of foreign born registered voters. Abernathy, said that, that is where the problem is and his attorney argued such a study would be constitutional. An argument against the proposed study was that the State Election Commission is working on a study to conform to a law passed in 2010 that requires the State Election Commission to examine the citizenship status of all voters and then pass on to the local election commissions a list of those who are discovered not to be citizens. Patricia Heim argued that Metro should not duplicate work the state is doing.

Abernathy argued that we have had three close elections since the State was supposed to have done their study and that the outcome of those elections might have been different had only citizens been permitted to vote. He said he did know how many non-citizens may be registered but estimated the number may be between 3000 to 9000. He also said, the problem of non-citizens registering to vote is probably a lot worse in Nashville than in any other county in Tennessee due to the large number of immigrants living in the Nashville area.

The discussion of the rescission motion went on for about an hour as a standing-room-only crowd of about forty people crammed into the meeting room to observe the proceedings and others listened on monitors from nearby rooms. The overwhelming majority of the public attending the meeting was there to support Abernathy's efforts to ensure voter integrity and they wore identifying badges. There were several people there on the other side of the issue but the efforts to turn out the other side appeared to have fizzled. All commissioners agreed they did not want non-citizens voting in our elections. Lynn Greer, Chairman of the Election Commission, said he was going to support the motion to rescind but would write a letter to the state urging them to complete their study. If not done by May 1, the Election Commission will revisit the issue. Everyone seemed pleased by the results of the session and Abernathy joined the other commissioner in voting to rescind the original motion calling for the study.

Steve Abernathy is to be commended for shedding light on this problem and taking a stand. We need to be vigilant and make sure the State follows through on the study they are supposed to be doing and completes it in a timely manner. Thankfully there are no elections scheduled soon, so there is time to purge from the rolls ineligible voters before the next election. If the State does not act in a timely manner, we need to organized to put pressure on the state and again pursue Metro undertaking its own study. Elections are too important to allow non-citizens to vote.

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