WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "It's great to be home," said the U.S. Army Ranger. "I just got back from Kosovo."
He was standing on an overlook, above Victory Pond at Fort Benning, Ga. I was there to film the "Best Ranger Competition" for Outdoor Life Network, and he was there to cheer on some of his mates who were competing in this grueling test of endurance and military skills. He told me that at the event's conclusion, he would be returning to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, home of the 6th Ranger Training Battalion, and then volunteered sardonically, "At least when I vote this year, my ballot will count."
The young soldier's rancor over efforts to disqualify Florida's military absentee ballots in the 2000 election prompted a broader discussion during which he described how U.S. Army units were supervising voter registration in the Balkans (a fingerprint is required) and how flawed the system has become in the United States since passage of the National Voter Registration Act -- commonly called "motor voter" -- proudly signed by William Jefferson Clinton on May 20,1993. The Ranger concluded with a telling accusation: "It's easier for a terrorist to vote in a U.S. election than for a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine overseas."
This superb member of our armed forces was, of course, referring to widely disseminated reports that a number of the 9-11 hijackers fraudulently obtained driver's licenses, enabling them to board the aircraft they would eventually use to kill 3,062 innocent people last September. It made me wonder if the terrorists also registered to vote when they got their licenses. Under "motor voter," all that's required to obtain a voter registration card is to check a box when applying for a driver's license. And in some jurisdictions, the voter ID is awarded to an applicant even when the appropriate box is left blank.
A voter registration card and a driver's license are all the identification needed for a person to travel unimpeded between the United States and Canada, Mexico or most Caribbean islands. Had any of the 9-11 terrorists obtained a voter registration card as an additional form of identification? It turns out that I wasn't the only one to ask this question.
Some probing by one of my colleagues uncovered that Donald Ledwig, the secretary of the Alexandria, Va., Electoral Board, had asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to provide lists of foreign residents and foreign employees living in their city so that they could cross-reference voter lists to ensure the integrity of election results. The INS never responded. Apparently it was too busy preparing visas for dead terrorists to attend flight school.
Frustrated by a lack of response from the federal agency in charge of immigration matters, the Alexandria Electoral Board turned to the Virginia State Board of Elections for help. In a letter eerily dated Dec. 7, Ledwig pointedly states: "We, in Virginia, make great efforts to ensure that convicted felons are removed and kept off voter lists. We should make similar efforts to ensure that foreign nationals are also prohibited from voting."
Cameron Quinn, the secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, sympathizes with the plight of the Alexandria Electoral Board, but points out that the INS has told her office that records of foreign nationals residing in Virginia are confidential and cannot be shared with state electoral officials. Yet respected election law attorney Mark Braden says that "there are no federal restrictions that would prevent the INS from sharing this information for appropriate governmental purposes."
Officials at the beleaguered INS did not return calls to explain why they can't or won't cooperate with a state electoral agency looking to ensure the integrity of its voter lists. Alexandria Electoral Board member Steve Katsurinis told me that approximately 1,200 people a month register to vote at their local Department of Motor Vehicle Offices. He added, "If (INS) provides us with a list of the names of legal resident aliens and their addresses in the city of Alexandria, that would provide enough information to determine whether or not we have reason to believe people are illegally registered to vote."
This is more than a Virginia problem. The lack of federal cooperation makes it impossible for any local electoral officials to verify the integrity of their voter rolls. Further, the INS' unwillingness or inability to respond to legitimate inquiry by local electoral officials compromises state attorneys general, who are responsible for prosecuting voter fraud.
Last week's 405-to-9 vote in the House of Representatives in favor of the Barbara Jordan Immigration Reform and Accountability Act will do nothing to cure this problem. The young Ranger I spoke to last week at Fort Benning may have his vote counted this November because he's home to cast it. But unless Congress repeals "motor voter," he'll never know whether the ballot he casts is being canceled by the ballot of an illegal alien who shouldn't be voting at all.