Ohio has requested access to a massive federal immigration database so election officials can verify voters’ citizenship. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted acknowledged the sensitivity of immigration issues but said the information, which he requested, would be valuable in unique situations when a voter’s citizenship is called into question. The database would not be used on a widespread basis to purge Ohio’s voter rolls of non-citizens, he said. “I feel like I have an obligation to pursue this to make sure we have all the tools necessary to make sure the integrity of the election system is upheld,” Husted said. Husted’s request comes at a volatile time. The hotly contested presidential election has put a spotlight on voting rights issues across the country, and there already have been accusations in Ohio of voter suppression tactics by GOP lawmakers aimed at poor and minority voters. Just this week, President Barack Obama’s re-election team sued Husted to allow in-person voting the three days before Election Day. Voting rights advocates cautioned Husted to use the information carefully.
“There are likely to be many mistakes in any huge database and voters should not be denied the right to vote due to some bureaucrat’s technical error,” said Dan Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and an expert on election law and voting rights issues. The database, known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement, or the SAVE program, contains about 100 million records that are available to benefit-granting agencies to determine an applicant’s immigration status. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversees the program.
Husted asked for access to the records in late May after discussing the issue with other secretaries of state.