U.S. House passes bill requiring proof of citizenship to vote in federal races

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would require individuals registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship to participate in federal elections.

The legislation, passed 221-198, would also require states to check their voter rolls for registered noncitizens.

The Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act, or SAVE, is intended to prevent noncitizens from voting. That act is already illegal, since under current U.S. law, only citizens can vote in federal elections, but the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 prohibits states from confirming citizenship status.

Voting laws vary by state, with some states like Georgia and Wisconsin requiring photo identification and others, such as Pennsylvania and New Mexico, requiring no documentation at all.

States that do mandate photo identification or other documents use driver’s licenses, military ID cards, student ID cards, birth certificates, tribal ID cards, or even a recent utility bill.

The SAVE Act, introduced by GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas in May, would require most individuals to have a passport to register to vote.

Only about 48% of U.S. citizens have a passport, according to State Department data. Driver’s license and tribal ID cards typically do not prove a person’s citizenship and couldn’t be used to register under the SAVE Act.

Data also indicates that noncitizen voting is not a prevalent issue, as many House Republicans have said.

According to The Associated Press, states such as North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, California, and Texas reviewed their voter rolls between 2016 and 2022. These audits found that fewer than 50 noncitizens in each state had voted in recent elections, out of upwards of 23 million total votes per state.

The measure is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Partisan divide

House Republicans have stood staunchly in favor of Roy’s bill, H.R.8281.

On the House floor Wednesday, Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, urged his colleagues to pass the bill, saying it was “one of the most important votes that members of this chamber will ever take in their entire careers.”

Last month, Johnson’s office released a 22-page report asserting the SAVE Act was critical for American election integrity.

Johnson blamed the Democratic Party for keeping American “borders wide open to every country on the planet,” and claimed Democrats “want illegal aliens voting in our elections.”

On Monday, the Biden administration issued a Statement of Administration Policy against the legislation, saying there is no cause for concern about noncitizen voting and that it would only hinder the voting rights of eligible Americans.

Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, urged his House colleagues during Wednesday floor debate to vote no on the bill, saying it would be devastating for all American voters.

“This bill is about scaring Americans, this bill is about silencing Americans, this bill is about disenfranchising Americans,” he said. “This bill is about further damaging the foundations of our democracy.”

But House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil backed the legislation during a Rules Committee hearing.

“In the past few decades, Americans’ faith in the integrity of our elections has eroded and it is Congress’ responsibility to restore confidence in our election system,” said Steil, a Wisconsin Republican. “The SAVE Act would do just that.”

Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana in a Monday press conference called the bill “a safeguard to ensure that only American citizens vote in America’s elections.”

Election implications

Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York during Wednesday floor debate alluded to the broader implications of the SAVE Act, looking towards the November election and the possibility of a second term for President Joe Biden.

He said Republicans could use the bill “as a cover, already trying to set up an excuse for what may happen in November.”

Voting rights advocates have expressed concern over the SAVE Act, saying it contains many falsehoods and conspiracy theories that perpetuate extreme views.

At a Tuesday press conference hosted by America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy nonprofit, Sean Morales-Doyle from the Brennan Center for Justice said the bill plays into greater themes of racism and xenophobia.

“It’s also a very damaging lie with an ulterior motive: to lay the groundwork for challenging legitimate election results down the road,” he said.

One House member equated the bill to a “Jim Crow poll tax” during floor debate. Jennifer McClellan, a Virginia Democrat, said she “is not aware of any single proof of citizenship document that doesn’t cost an individual money to get it.”

Wesley Hunt, a Republican from Texas, responded that “Jim Crow is over.”

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