Friday, June 16, 2017
[Santa Barbara County] Grand jury: No process to verify citizenship status in voter registrations
While a Santa Barbara County grand jury detected no signs of voter fraud after investigating concerns raised by residents, its members did determine there is no process to verify anyone's citizenship status when they are registering to vote.
The investigation was sparked after county residents raised questions about ineligible people possibly committing voter fraud, sparking a monthslong look into the voting process.
"We should all be concerned about voting, no matter who you vote for," said grand jury foreman Andrew Brown, adding the concern was raised "before the volatility of the past election."
The county civil grand jury is comprised of 19 watchdogs who investigate, evaluate and recommend changes to any publicly funded city, county or special district agency. Complaints and suggestions are issued to jury members who then determine if the issue is worthy of a full investigation. In its findings, the group works to shine a light on public agencies.
The civil grand jury cannot make any recommendations on statewide laws and mandates, but they can make observations.
So, while the voting area was one of interest, according to Brown, jury members couldn't make recommendations to the state to change laws.
"We just considered this lack of verification in citizenship to be a flaw in the voter registration process in general," he said.
A 'flawed' registration process
During the data analysis, Brown said the jury determined neither the state of California or the county requires any proof of citizenship to register to vote.
“We uncovered that there's no requirement to provide proof of citizenship. You just sign off that line in the ballot that informs you of the potentials of felony perjury if you're not eligible to register to vote,” Brown said.
Essentially, if a noncitizen attempts to register, the Registrar of Voters throughout the state must accept that the person is a U.S. citizen, known as "the honor system" -- declaration of citizenship without verification.
Despite the fact that perjury is punishable as a felony, it really depends on whether someone is willing to be honest or not, Brown said.
Any ineligible citizen caught attempting to register can receive a sentence from a year in County Jail and/or a fine up to $25,000 to a maximum of four years in state prison, according to the California Law Elections Code.
Only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in a U.S. election, according to the county's voter registration form, meaning they must be born in the country or be in the process of obtaining a citizenship by "naturalization."
Those who were born in a foreign country but have one parent who is a U.S. citizen also are eligible to vote.
To become a registered voter, one must declare to be a U.S. citizen and be a resident of California, provide a home address, provide a valid California ID card or driver's license and provide a date and place of birth. For those who don't have a driver's license or state ID, they must provide the last four digits of their Social Security card, if available.
When voters sign off on their registration application, they "declare under penalty of felony perjury that all facts in the application are true," Brown said.
A valid state driver's license or Social Security card, however, are not proof of citizenship, the grand jury found, nor are they required for completion of the form.
Registering to vote in Santa Barbara County
Joe Holland, the county's clerk, recorder and assessor, said that his office does everything they can to double-check voter registration cards and applications, but he also agreed that there is no statewide U.S. citizenship database to confirm anything.
"The grand jury report is right -- it is a serious felony perjury for noncitizens to try and register, and for noncitizens to vote," Holland said.
Holland also pointed out that, prior to the new state law that passed Jan. 1, registrant hopefuls had to apply within 15 days before elections. Now, eligible citizens can register on Election Day, but not just at any polling place.
"Everyone must come to any of our three offices located in Santa Maria, Lompoc or Santa Barbara," he said. "You must register in person at the office, where you'll be given a provisional ballot."
Holland also spoke to concerns of voter fraud, explaining no such case of fraud has been filed for formal prosecution by the District Attorney's Office.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said that her office may have received one report concerning voter fraud in the last five years, but never had to charge anyone for such a felony.
"To my knowledge, we've never filed formal charges, or prosecuted anyone," Dudley said. "We certainly would take voter fraud very seriously ... there is a reason lying on your application is a felony. There's a lot of fraud that is eligible to prosecute as a felony, and we take everything seriously, whether it's voter fraud or any other fraud."
Gearing up for midterm elections
At the end of the day, the County Clerk's Office will continue to function the way it has been, and is gearing up for next year's midterm elections, Holland said.
"There's really nothing for the county to do at this point," he said. "We will just continue complying with current state laws."
Holland added that it is important to highlight issues related to voter fraud, "so we can remind noncitizens of the consequences that comes with attempting to get away with voting. It'd be terrible to see something like that happening."
June 15, 2017
By Gina Kim