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Idaho Gov. Little orders more scrutiny on voter rolls. Here’s what’s already required

By Ian Max Stevenson </p><p>The Idaho Statesman</p><p>

Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order Tuesday directing the Idaho secretary of state to shore up voting procedures to ensure noncitizens cannot vote in Idaho elections – a measure aimed at preventing participation in elections that is already illegal and happens very rarely.

The order, called the Only Citizens Will Vote Act, directs the secretary of state to coordinate with state agencies and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to identify potential noncitizens on voter rolls, verify whether they are citizens and, if not, remove them. It also forbids state agencies from providing voter registration information to noncitizens, and directs them to confirm federal agencies do not require state agencies to provide “voter registration materials to noncitizens” before renewing contracts.

Little’s executive order follows efforts in the Legislature in recent years to tighten rules around elections, and comes as conservatives around the country have focused on an increase in migrant crossings at the southern border as a politically divisive topic with which to challenge Democrats.

Voters in November will also consider a state constitutional amendment to further clarify that it is illegal for noncitizens to vote in state elections. The state constitution already says that qualified electors are American citizens. The amendment would further declare that “no person who is not a citizen of the United States” can vote in any election in the state.

Little’s order included inflammatory rhetoric that lacked context, charging Democrat-controlled states with encouraging noncitizens to vote.

While federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections, some municipalities around the country – none in Idaho – have moved to allow noncitizen participation in local or school board elections. Those shifts have generally been pushed by immigrant rights organizations, who have argued that people who are not citizens still pay taxes, are part of the community and should have a say in their local government.

Separately, in response to national and state-level efforts from Republicans to restrict voting access for citizens, President Joe Biden signed an executive order in 2021 to promote ballot access for eligible voters.

“While Left Coast states and the Biden administration erode confidence in elections by seeking to register noncitizens to vote, Idaho is taking a stand,” Little said in a video statement. His order asks Secretary of State Phil McGrane to “scrub our voter rolls to make sure there are zero illegal immigrants registered to vote in Idaho,” Little said.

A spokesperson for Little, Madison Hardy, declined to substantiate Little’s claim about other states registering noncitizens, and referred a Statesman reporter to McGrane’s office.

McGrane told the Statesman that Little’s claim was “not the phrasing I would typically use,” and said the order was drafted by Little’s office.

McGrane pointed to recent efforts in the Legislature to prevent undocumented immigrants from voting and national media attention around the heightened number of border crossings from Mexico. He said Little’s office had reached out to him to see whether officials needed to heighten election security.

Because the state constitution already requires citizenship to vote, McGrane said he initially felt further action was unnecessary.

But “that hasn’t stopped any of the concerns,” he said, which led him to want to further reassure voters. “We’re seeing a rise and a push more about people’s confidence in elections tied to the news about immigration,” he added.

McGrane said the number of recorded instances of noncitizens registering to vote in Idaho elections totaled in the “single digits” over the past few election cycles.

As the November presidential election approaches, fights over the border have shifted Biden’s immigration policies rightward, and in June the president ordered the border closed when migrant crossings run high. Donald Trump, Biden’s Republican rival for the presidency, endorsed by Little, has hammered the president over the border and heightened anti-immigrant sentiment by claiming that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”

“Our efforts to keep our voter rolls free of noncitizens is especially important as more and more people pour across our lawless, open southern border illegally,” Little said in his video statement.

While his office already works with state agencies to verify the voter rolls, McGrane said there are a small number of registered voters who are “potentially” not citizens, based on the information the state has. He said the order would direct his office to work with Homeland Security to verify those voters’ status. McGrane said he expects further verification will identify most of those voters as citizens, but that any who are not will be removed.

“I appreciate that Gov. Little was willing to reach out on this and work on processes to make elections more secure,” he said. Noting that Idaho elections are already protected and that he expects few noncitizens would want to risk the consequences of voting illegally, McGrane compared the state’s election security measures to wearing a seat belt.

“Voting can be both accessible and secure,” he said. “Too often those narratives collide.”