Contra Costa Times
August 28, 2010
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
As Latino leaders and the Catholic Church ramp up efforts to register more Latino voters, immigration activists and some conservatives say they are afraid such efforts are aimed at getting illegal immigrants to vote.
While it appears some loopholes could allow illegal immigrants to vote, there’s little evidence of illegal immigrants voting, and those behind the registration efforts say they have no need to reach out to illegal immigrants. San Bernardino County, they say, has so many legal Latino citizens who don’t vote that just reaching out to them is enough.
"We’re not squeezing for extra juice," said Francisco Sol , chairman of the Latino Voter Registration Project. "There’s plenty of juice in the first place."
Countywide, 34 percent of voting-age citizens are Latino. In many cities, including Fontana, Rialto and Ontario, Latinos make up roughly half of all, legal, voting-age citizens, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
"There are plenty of Latino citizens who are not registered or, if they are registered, are not voters," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. "Leaving aside the propriety of it, there’s just no need to try to register illegals."
But anti-illegal-immigration activists say the result of registration drives that target Latinos will invariably lead to fraudulent registration of noncitizens.
"It’s probably the intention for some (groups) but an unintended consequence for most," said Rick Oltman, spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization. "But regardless of their intention, some illegal aliens will be registered."
For some groups, illegal immigrants at the polls have been a concern for years. But last week, the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino added a local wrinkle when it hosted a voter-registration training event in San Bernardino aimed at helping register more Latinos.
The diocese, which covers San Bernardino and Riverside counties, plans to host more sessions over the next few months.
That effort, said Raymond Herrera, president and founder of the Claremont-based We the People, California’s Crusader, is clearly geared toward registering illegal immigrants.
"They’re going to apply this at the Catholic churches when people come out of church," Herrera said. "The only people who go to the Catholic church in San Bernardino are illegal aliens. The aim is to register noncitizens."
Even some Catholics at the training session said they are concerned about noncitizens voting.
"I want to make sure whoever signs these are citizens," said Joe Bonadiman, a San Bernardino resident who worships at San Secondo d’Asti Parish in Guasti. "I’m anxious to make sure everything is done properly."
Sol , who led last week’s training session, told attendees that only citizens can vote and that, when registering voters, volunteers should ask to make sure registrants are citizens and can vote. He also said illegal immigrants who know they can’t vote likely won’t try to register.
But Oltman said there have been plenty of cases of illegal immigrants voting. And it does appear possible that an illegal immigrant could register to vote and cast a ballot.
When someone fills out a voter registration card, that person must check a box indicating he or she is a citizen and must provide a name and either a driver’s license number or the last four digits of his or her Social Security number.
That information is checked by the California Secretary of State’s Office. If names don’t check out, local election officials send a letter to the would-be voter, asking the applicant to verify the information, said San Bernardino County Registrar Kari Verjil.
If that person does not return the letter, the person can still go to the polls on Election Day. A poll worker will be required to ask that person for identification, but the identification does not have to be a document that proves citizenship.
Verjil said a utility bill with the voter’s name and address would suffice.
"Nobody’s checking," Oltman said. "People are looking to exploit the holes in the system."
But there’s little more than anecdotal evidence that illegal immigrants vote or even register to vote, Pitney said.
"If I were an illegal immigrant, the last thing I would want to do is sign a piece of government paperwork," he said. "But it’s hard to say, systemically, it doesn’t happen because it’s something people don’t advertise."