OLYMPIA -- Washington can't use immigrant registration records from the U.S. Homeland Security Department to verify names on its voter rolls, state elections officials said today.
The reason: The state doesn't have a system that requires proof of legal residence before issuing a driver's license, which is necessary to use the federal system.
Secretary of State Sam Reed requested access to the federal system in July as a way of checking the accuracy of the state's voter rolls. But to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program, which is designed to determine whether a person qualifies for different social and medical programs, the state would need to issue some sort of identification card that checks for legal immigration status.
The state doesn't check for legal residency when issuing driver's license or an official ID card. Several proposals in recent legislative sessions have been died after critics said it would prevent drivers who are in the country illegally from proving they can drive by taking the driver's test, and obtaining insurance.
Reed said he was disappointed the state can't use the federal system to check its voter rolls and is dropping the effort for the 2012 election. He urged the Legislature to require applicants for a driver's license of ID card to show proof of legal residency.
Among those critical of the plan was the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which met with state elections officials this summer in an effort to get them to drop the plan. Shankar Naryan of the ACLU, said today Reed made the right decision in dropping plans to try to find illegal immigrants on the voter rolls.
"It's a solution in search of a problem," Naryan said. "I'm not aware of anyone convicted of voting as a non-citizen in Washington."
Illegal immigrants are unlikely to risk voting illegally, he said. It's a felony, and if they are caught, they'd be jailed or deported. State elections officials should spend money instead on making sure people who are eligible register and vote.
Reed said the state is dedicated to keeping illegal people off the rolls and registering people who are legal.