More Third World shenanigans from the land of the free and the home of the electorally challenged: The Justice Department dispatched more than 400 federal observers and lawyers to guard against illegal voting fraud at polling places in 14 states yesterday. By mid-morning, complaints of rigged machines, racial intimidation and partisan interference had already been lodged from all parts of the country.
Overlooked on Election Day, however, were the myriad examples of voter fraud -- and the undermining of American citizenship -- that government officials allow to go totally unchecked and unpunished.
In Florida, a Democrat named Rafael Velasquez was able to run for state office despite admitting that he voted twice in the 1990s before obtaining U.S. citizenship. Under Florida election laws, voting as a noncitizen can be prosecuted as a felony.
Velasquez said he voted in the 1996 presidential election and the 1998 Florida gubernatorial race because of a "misunderstanding." The candidate claimed that he informed election officials that he was a resident alien, but that they let him vote anyway.
Miami-Dade County elections records, however, contradicted Velasquez's characterization of his illegal votes as clerical errors. According to The Miami Herald, the documents showed that he falsely claimed to be a citizen (he was not naturalized until May 2001). Yet, no charges were filed against him, and his illegal votes did not disqualify him from running for public office.
Belying the din of "disenfranchisement," the state of Florida seems all too willing to hand over voting privileges to those who don't deserve them. Another prominent noncitizen allowed to vote in the Sunshine State was Sami Al-Arian, a controversial University of South Florida Islamic professor with long-alleged ties to terrorism, who cast his ballot in a Tampa referendum in 1994 -- while his citizenship application was pending. He, too, claimed the illegal vote was the result of a "misunderstanding." State officials have declined to prosecute.
Elsewhere, noncitizen voting is not merely overlooked. It is encouraged. Here in my home county of Montgomery County, Md., five municipalities allow noncitizens (with no distinction between legal and illegal aliens) to cast ballots in local elections: Takoma Park, Somerset, Chevy Chase, Martin's Additions and Barnesville. Last month, Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams endorsed a similar proposal championed by Hispanic activists. "I'm committed to expanding the franchise," Williams said in explaining why citizenship should be thrown out the window as the standard for voting eligibility.
In 1993, the federal Motor Voter law "expanded the franchise" for political expediency, and exacerbated the perilous trend of lowering the safeguards for voting that continues to undermine the value of U.S. citizenship today. As former INS Commissioner Alan C. Nelson noted when Takoma Park passed its noncitizen voting referendum a decade ago:
"In many countries of the world, an alien is always an alien. In our country, we are proud that our laws and social policies encourage aliens of all races and cultures to become citizens. In recent years, however, an increasing number of aliens have not pursued citizenship . . . This trend is disturbing, because it could seriously affect the assimilation process immigrants have pursued in this nation for 200 years . . . This important value of becoming a citizen is lost if an alien can vote without becoming a citizen. Any legal resident alien can become a U.S. citizen in five years. That is not an unreasonable time to wait to be able to participate in our democracy. The five-year wait emphasizes the value of citizenship as a requirement to vote and to becoming a full member of the community. If local voting by noncitizens is allowed, state and federal voting could be next. Either there is a policy basis for noncitizens to vote, or there is not. If we open the door, it cannot be closed halfway."
Where are those federal monitors when we need them?