The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
State officials on Thursday welcomed the news that the federal government is finally granting states access to an immigration database they could use to confirm the U.S. citizenship of those seeking to vote.
Yet, there was still no word from federal officials on precisely when Georgia will be able to start using the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program.
Meanwhile, the head of the League of Women Voters of Georgia expressed concerns that Georgia officials are about to embark on a “wild goose chase” with the online database just months before the presidential election.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the federal government is expanding access to the SAVE program so Florida and other states can use it to cleanse their voter rolls of noncitizens. Election leaders in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah have also requested access to the program, the AP reported. Each of the election chiefs in those states is a Republican.
Georgia officials do not plan to use the database to purge noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Rather, they want to use to verify whether people registering to vote are U.S. citizens.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp issued a prepared statement Tuesday, saying he was “cautiously optimistic” about this week’s news from the federal government.
“Georgia should have access to this critical database,” Kemp said.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the SAVE program, referred questions to the Homeland Security Department. A spokesman for that agency said Tuesday afternoon he was working on the AJC’s request.
Georgia lawmakers passed legislation in 2009, requiring voter registration applicants to prove their U.S. citizenship. Senate Bill 86 says applicants may submit their alien registration numbers as proof.
Georgia officials say they need access to the SAVE database to check those numbers. They have been applying to the federal government for access for more than a year, public records show. Kemp repeated Georgia’s request in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last month.
“Hopefully now we can bring a swift resolution to the issues we have been having here in Georgia,” Kemp said Tuesday. “My office stands ready to work with the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS to do so.”
Asked if there is any evidence of noncitizens registering to vote in Georgia, a spokesman for Kemp’s office said: “Our charge is to provide the most safe and secure elections as possible and the SAVE database certainly would be a piece of that puzzle and would help us get further down the road.”
Kemp’s office also referred questions to the author of SB 86, state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon.
“I am encouraged to learn that the federal government may finally recognize Georgia’s right to confirm that those voting in our state are in fact citizens,” Staton said in an email. “It is good to see that federal data may finally be available for states such as Georgia, where we value the integrity of our voting process and are simply attempting to make sure that non-citizens [do] not make it onto voter rolls.”
Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, is concerned about the state government’s plans to start using SAVE, especially in the months leading up to the presidential election.
She said she plans to contact Kemp and ask how his office would use the program. She worries it will be used — based on “unfounded allegations —
to “target specific groups, such as African Americans, the elderly, Latino voters and even people whose last name is not distinguishable as an American name.”
“There is no such evidence to substantiate that voter fraud is widespread,” she said. “I kind of look at it as a wild goose chase.”