LANSING, MICHIGAN – One day after being sued over a controversial ballot box citizenship question, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said Tuesday there are an estimated 4,000 noncitizens on Michigan’s voter rolls.
The estimate is based on the state’s access to citizenship information for one-fifth of the population, Johnson said, adding the federal government won’t give her access to more citizenship data.
Johnson said the results of a “very tedious” analysis of 58,000 driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards found 963 noncitizens registered to vote.
Department of State employees cross-referenced those noncitizens with voting records and found 54 have a voting history and have voted a total of 95 times, Johnson said.
Using census estimates that 305,000 noncitizens live in Michigan, Johnson’s office extrapolated that 5,064 could be noncitizens and then lowered its estimate to 4,000 to account for children, spokeswoman Gisgie Gendreau said.
Johnson said the discovery justifies her insistence that Michigan’s 7.34 million registered voters be asked to affirm their citizenship if they vote at the polls in November. The daughter of a Canadian immigrant, Johnson said the citizenship question is necessary because over the years noncitizens have been automatically registered to vote while legally obtaining a driver’s license.
“We have a problem. We need to fix it,” Johnson told The Detroit News. “Denying and minimizing it doesn’t get the job done.”
A group of voting rights advocates, labor unions and citizens sued Johnson in federal court Monday, challenging her authority to ask voters to affirm their citizenship after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation adding the question to absentee and in-person voting applications.
The plaintiffs say the question is redundant because voters affirm their citizenship when they register to vote and say the question is an ineffective way to root out potential voter fraud.
“If someone is legitimately trying to misrepresent themselves as a citizen in order to interfere with our elections, then what’s to say they won’t misrepresent themselves a second time at the ballot box,” said election attorney Jocelyn Benson, who was Johnson’s 2010 Democratic opponent.
Benson said Johnson’s office should remove the noncitizens from the voter rolls rather than “using fear and xenophobia” with the citizenship inquiry at the polls.
Johnson, a Republican, also implied President Barack Obama and Democratic county and city clerks are obstructing her efforts to root out noncitizen voters. She specifically noted her office found 80 noncitizens registered to vote in Macomb County, where County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, a Democrat, has said she won’t let the citizenship question appear on applications to vote.
“I don’t think anybody wants noncitizens to vote no matter what their party affiliation to vote,” Johnson said.
Sabaugh questioned Johnson’s data and wanted to know whether the Secretary of State’s Office has notified the noncitizens on the voter rolls that it’s a felony for them to vote.
“If she sees this as a real big problem, then I think she needs to look at her branch offices” where people register to vote, Sabaugh told The News. “I don’t know if we can trust these numbers.”
The state Bureau of Elections is “working to remove anyone who is not a qualified voter from the rolls,” Gendreau said.
Johnson, a former Oakland County clerk, said she’s been “turned away” by the Social Security Administration and U.S. Department of Homeland Security in four attempts to verify the citizenship of all registered voters.
“I think the best way is for this administration to do their job and that’s to help us get noncitizens off the voter rolls,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s late afternoon news release contained statements of support from Oakland County Clerk Bill Bullard Jr.; state Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township.
“We know that noncitizens have been invited to register to vote for decades with many doing so,whether they’ve done it intentionally or not,” Lund said in a statement. “Putting noncitizens on notice that casting a ballot is a serious crime is a simple, common-sense solution to this problem.”
Citing her general authority to prescribe election forms, Johnson first added the citizenship question to ballot applications in the February Republican presidential primary.
After that contest, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer filed a Freedom of Information Act with Johnson’s office to see how many noncitizens were caught voting in the GOP primary. Johnson’s office said four of the 1.2 million may have been noncitizens, according to Brewer.