Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman made it known this morning that, if reelected, she will be asking the Legislature to enact legislation to at least partially implement the privacy-infringing federal “REAL ID” Act in order to “check for citizenship of people who want to register and vote in Washington”.
“Our package is reasonable; it’s long overdue,” Wyman said in a news release. “Our laws are not working the way they need them to. We need to construct laws and processes to verify voter eligibility on the front end of the voter registration application. We are here today to propose some sensible and concrete solutions to correct this problem. The time for action is now.”
“People are understandably frustrated about this situation and we are frustrated as well. It’s time for action in the January session,” she added.
Democratic challenger Tina Podlodowski promptly blasted Wyman’s announcement.
“Secretary of State Kim Wyman is showing her true partisan Republican colors in an effort to score political points on voting access issues,” Podlodowski said in response to Wyman’s announcement. “Like her party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, she is intentionally inflaming anti-immigrant sentiments by suggesting non-citizens are trying to vote in Washington State.”
“As a daughter of two immigrants who became naturalized citizens, I’m appalled by how low Kim Wyman is willing to stoop to try and paint immigrants in Washington State as perpetuators of voter fraud, a continuing Republican narrative in the 2016 election that is simply not true. Shame on her.”
OneAmerica’s Rich Stolz also strongly denounced Wyman’s posturing.
“We are appalled at Secretary Wyman’s Trump-style exploitation of the Burlington tragedy to win political points,” Stolz said in a statement sent to NPI. “With the Burlington investigation still underway, and even after news reports had confirmed that Arcan Cetin was in fact a citizen, Secretary Wyman this morning announced policy proposals taken out of the right-wing voter suppression playbook.”
“As Secretary Wyman acknowledged herself, the penalties for non-citizen voting are severe — up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine and likely deportation.”
“Instead of proposing policies that weaken our Democracy by placing unnecessary barriers between citizens and their right to vote, Wyman should focus on ensuring that the upcoming election reverses the trend — under her leadership — of dwindling voter turnout,” Stolz added. (Analysis published by NPI shows that voter turnout has been consistently falling during Wyman’s tenure as Secretary of State.)
The ACLU of Washington, which has long been a leading advocate for the right to privacy in the Evergreen State, registered its opposition as well.
“The ACLU of Washington is disappointed in the Secretary of State’s proposal, which is a solution looking for a problem,” said Shankar Narayan, ACLU of Washington Technology and Project Director. “There is no credible evidence of non-citizens voting in Washington — such actions are already a felony in Washington and could lead to an individual being deported. Rather than adding layers of bureaucracy that will deter legitimate voters or falsely stigmatizing immigrants, our public officials should be making the ballot more, rather than less, accessible.”
“Commandeering state drivers’ licenses to become de facto national ID cards is an expensive proposal that would rely on flawed federal databases. Doing so would not improve public safety and would add needless burden to the process of getting a license. Washington can do better than this flawed policy,” Narayan commented.
Legislators have already been discussing how and whether to respond to the Department of Homeland Security’s latest manufactured deadlines for complying with provisions of the more than decade-old REAL ID Act.
“Bipartisan work on REAL ID has been underway in the Legislature for several years – led by House Speaker Frank Chopp, Democratic Representative Judy Clibborn and Republican Senator Curtis King – with legislation already scheduled to be introduced in the 2017 Session,” Podlodowski observed.
“The conversation on REAL ID and Automatic Voter Registration has been developing with Wyman sitting on the sidelines. Only now, after a recent tragedy, is she stepping forward to score political points.”
The aforementioned tragedy is the mass murder of five people at Cascade Mall in Burlington: Sarai Lara (16), Chuck Eagan (61), Belinda Galde (64), Beatrice Dotson (95), Galde’s mother, and Shayla Martin (52). In the wake of the shooting, news media questioned whether suspected perpetrator Arcan Cetin (who has confessed to the murders) was in fact an American citizen.
In our view, Wyman and her team inappropriately used Cetin’s terrible crime and the reporting surrounding it as fodder for their news release.
The release quotes Wyman is saying:
“This issue pales in comparison to the tragedy of five innocent lives lost. But when the citizenship of Mr. Cetin was publicly called into question as part of the story, it shined a bright light on the fact that under current state law, as election administrators, we are not able to confirm the citizenship of any registered voter.”
This issue doesn’t have anything to do with what happened in Burlington.
NPI believes our response to Washington’s declining voter turnout needs to include eliminating barriers to voting, not creating new ones.
Wyman’s news release today improperly conflates several issues — specifically, the federal government’s manufactured REAL ID deadlines and Washington’s response, the accuracy and integrity of the state’s voter rolls, and what needs to be done to effectively implement automatic voter registration.
Wyman’s call for “citizenship checks” sounds akin to a photo identification scheme for Washington State. Washington is mostly vote by mail, with only a few accessible voting centers, so Republicans can’t argue we need a law that would require voters to present certain forms of photo ID at polling places.
But Kim Wyman is now arguing that “election administrators” like her need to be able to verify if a voter is in fact a citizen.
Why? As far as the rights of natural persons are concerned, guilty until proven innocent is incompatible with the values our country was founded on.
Our initial response to hearing this proposal was to ask some questions, namely:
- Which provisions of the REAL ID Act of 2005 are you proposing to comply with? (The law has a troubled history and its implementation is very incomplete, having been repeatedly delayed.)
- What is the estimated/approximate cost of your proposed legislation?
- How will it be paid for?
- Are you actually preparing a draft of agency request legislation, or are you going to defer to partner legislators to work on that?
- What do you say to those who contend full adoption/implementation of REAL ID could violate the constitutional rights guaranteed to Washingtonians by the Washington State Constitution?
Wyman’s staff did not offer answers to these questions, except to say that Wyman anticipates working with Judy Clibborn and Curtis King, the respective current chairs of the House and Senate Transportation Committees, on this legislation.
(That’s assuming that voters preserve the status quo in Olympia. The parties are battling furiously for control over both chambers. Republicans’ hopes of winning both have largely faded, while Democrats are emboldened about expanding their House majority and electing a majority in the Senate as well.)