The names or more than 20,000 noncitizens who hold Tennessee driver’s licenses or certificates will soon be compared to voter registration records to determine if any have voted illegally.
The review, which follows a legislative mandate approved in May, was inspired by a similar check in Colorado that found 11,800 noncitizens were registered to vote and about 5,000 had cast ballots in the 2010 election.
State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said there have been isolated cases of noncitizens found voting in Tennessee, including one case in Houston County and another in Putnam County. But he said that, without the pending review, there is no way to know how common such things.
“I hope for four, or five. It could be 10,000,” he said Monday. “It’s a shot in the dark.”
The legislation that calls for the review — SB352 — was originally drafted to mandate that a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship be provided by people registering to vote. It was amended to instead require that the Department of Safety provide a list of all noncitizens holding Tennessee driver’s licenses or certificates to the coordinator of elections by Jan. 1.
Goins said he anticipates the matching process to be completed quickly, once the list is provided. The law requires that anyone found listed as a noncitizen holding a driver’s license and as a registered voter be sent a notice, requiring that he or she provide proof of citizenship to his or her county election commission within 30 days or be purged from voter registration rolls.
Tennessee’s presidential preference primary is scheduled March 6. Goins said the process should be completed by then.
Under state law, foreign nationals legally within the U.S. may obtain a temporary driver’s license and, at least in theory, such a license could be used to register to vote and would be valid for voting under the controversial new law requiring a photo ID.
Department of Safety spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said that there are 19,562 temporary licenses now issued.
Also, there are 1,043 “certificates for driving” issued to noncitizens under prior state law that are still valid, though all will expire during 2012, Donnals said in an email. The certificates, which carry the statement “not valid for identification,” could be obtained by illegal immigrants. Those names will also be part of the review.
“As far as potentially taking ineligible voters off the rolls, it’s potentially one of the most important things the Legislature did this year,” said Goins. “Because of the photo ID law, it just slid under the radar.”