In June last year, Luis, a resident of Virginia, was astonished to discover that his name and personal details, including home address, had been posted on the internet by a group known as the Public Interest Legal Foundation (Pilf). Luis’s data had been released by the group, along with hundreds of other names, as an appendix to Pilf’s two-part report called “Alien Invasion”. The front cover showed a UFO hovering ominously over a billboard on which the famous tourism slogan “Virginia is for lovers” had been photoshopped to read: “Virginia is for aliens”. In lurid language, Pilf claimed that it had uncovered proof that “large numbers of ineligible aliens are registering to vote and casting ballots”. It warned its readers: “Your vote is at risk. New alien voters are being added to the rolls month after month, and swift changes must be made to ensure that only Americans are choosing American leaders.” The only problem was that Luis, in common with dozens of other Virginians on the list posted by Pilf, was not in fact an “alien”. He was born in Los Angeles and has always enjoyed US citizenship, with full rights to vote since the age of 18. He also happens to be a federal employee of the US immigration service. Yet here he was, his name attached to a report in which Pilf claimed to have discovered more than 5,000 non-citizens in Virginia who had cast 7,474 votes – every one a criminal act amounting to a felony.
The insinuation was deeply troubling to Luis. As a federal worker he could face intense scrutiny as a result of any suggestion of illegal activity (for the same reason he asked the Guardian to use only his first name).
Luis was also disturbed on behalf of hundreds of other people who also had their personal details – names, addresses and in some cases even home phone numbers – posted in the appendices of the Pilf reports. “I thought if my name is on the list, and I’m a US citizen, how many others were wrongly accused of being illegal ‘alien’ voters?”
Alien Invasion is one of the more startling examples of a growing rightwing push to pressurize election officials across the country to purge large numbers of people from the registered voter rolls. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, and with so much riding at both national and state level on voter turnout, the stakes could not be higher.