Booher ballot bill would require proof of citizenship

LANSING — A bill working its way through Michigan’s legislature has some people applauding the effort to control who votes, when and where. Critics question whether the bill is necessary.

Senate Bill 803, sponsored by State Sen. Darwin Booher, (R-Evart), is designed to “ ... focus on increasing penalties for campaign finance violations and reducing voter fraud.” It specifically deals with assuring that only citizens of the United States are allowed to vote in any election.

Booher’s bill would require registered voters to sign a form indicating they are U.S. citizens prior to voting in person or by absent voter ballot. A person refusing or failing to answer the citizenship question at the polls would be denied a ballot. Absentee voters would be issued ballots, which would not be counted unless the voter answers the question by Election Day.

“Open, free and fair elections are vital to our democratic republic. That is why it is critical to make sure elections are not open to fraud,” Booher said. “Voter fraud and campaign finance cheating erode the democratic process and cannot be tolerated. These reforms are designed to protect voter rights and ensure that individuals caught violating election and campaign finance laws are severely punished.”

While supporters of the bill believe the effort may reduce incidences of election fraud by making sure that every voter is a U.S. citizen, questions have been raised whether the bill isn’t, at best, redundant.

“Only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in U.S. elections, but Michigan currently does not ask voters if they are citizens,” Booher said. “By requiring officials to ask this basic question before handing someone a ballot, my bill will help ensure the integrity of our elections.”

On the “Application To Vote/Ballot Selection Form” distributed to every voter participating in the Feb. 28 GOP primary, the question is asked: “Are you a United States citizen?” The appropriate arrow, (Yes or No), must be completely blacked in before a ballot will be issued the voter.

The Michigan Secretary of State Bureau of Elections told the Pioneer that legislative action was not needed to have the “Are you a United State Citizen?” question included on the ballot application form.

Despite claims that voter and election fraud is widespread throughout the state and nation, questions have been raised as to whether there is really such fraud in huge numbers, and whether addressing the issue isn’t more a case of reaching out to ‘the base’ or actually tackling a substantial problem

Osceola County Clerk Karen Bluhm reported that as far as she had heard in professional circles and through links and contacts, she “had no knowledge” of any cases of election or voter fraud being prosecuted to conviction in the state in many years.

“I wouldn’t think there was any need for legislation to add such a question to the ballot,” she said. “I can see it already exists, and I don’t know of any cases in which a question of fraud as a result of citizenship issues was raised.

“I don’t know of any case that was prosecuted on this issue. It certainly might not hurt to have legislation on the books to help prevent something in the future.”

Booher’s chief of staff, Patrick Tiedt, said the senator realized language was already in place assuring that only U.S. citizens would be allowed to vote.

“There already is also similar language on the absentee ballot,” Tiedt said. “Previous printings, however, actually did not have such language in place. We know this question can be placed on the ballot without legislation, we want to make sure that the ballot application language is guaranteed in the future.”

Just as it was easy for the Secretary of State and the Bureau of Elections to include the citizenship question this time around, Tiedt said, it could be just as easy for a future secretary of state to eliminate the language.

“We want to make sure it is on every form issued in the future,” he said.

Booher noted that the Michigan Secretary of State office has discovered instances of non-citizens inadvertently registering to vote when they applied for other materials, such as a driver’s license.

There was, however, no reported case of a non-citizen being caught trying to vote, or being tried or convicted for such an issue.

“Anything we can do to ensure that there are safe and secure elections is worth the time and effort,” said Tiedt.