In a cultural climate where the topic of immigration is at the forefront of heated debates, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine eliminated the crux of a bill that could deter non-citizens from registering to vote.
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles patrons can indicate if they would like to register to vote on driver’s license, driver’s permit and identification card applications.
HB170 would have for the first time required the DMV to include in these applications a question regarding citizenship status.
Kaine amended the bill, deleting all references to the DMV.
“I do believe he’s done harm to the bill,” said its sponsor, Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Dale City. “He’s gutted it.”
“We’re not sure that DMV should become an immigration office without further discussion, further reflection,” Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said.
“This would be a fundamental shift in the duties of the Department of Motor Vehicles.”
HB170 also stipulates that the DMV must provide the State Board of Elections with a monthly list of driver’s license, permit and identification card applicants who indicate a non-citizen status on their applications.
The State Board now forwards voter registration applications from the DMV to the 134 general registrar offices in the
Kaine amended the bill to mirror one by Del. David B. Albo, R-Springfield, which simply states that the State Board is required to delete non-citizens from the registered voter list.
Kaine has signed Albo’s bill into law, effective July 1.
Clay Landa, a policy analyst with the State Board of Elections, said the agency has no way to verify who is legally registered to vote because the registration process does not request proof of citizenship.
And, there is no official tally of unlawfully registered voters.
“We have no way of knowing,” Landa said. “There is no indication that it isn’t a problem, and there is no indication that it is a problem.”
The agency mostly relies on non-citizens who are registered to contact the board about the error.
Still, Lingamfelter believes the citizenship question on DMV license applications could stop non-citizens from inadvertently registering to vote.
In a letter dated April 13, Lingamfelter asked the Democratic governor to recede his amendment of the voting bill.
“I took great pains to ensure that both the DMV and the SBOE were in agreement with this bill,” Lingamfelter wrote.
“Additionally, I coordinated with both the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, and the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that this bill did not violate any law. Both assured me it was legal and appropriate for the DMV to ask the citizenship question.”
Lingamfelter said he wrote Kaine because “I think that in the process of looking at the bill he has come to a conclusion that is incorrect. What I’m trying to do is work with him in a bipartisan fashion.”
Hall said there was simply not enough deliberation about the bill’s implications during the legislative session.
“Is it the DMV’s job to maintain voter lists?” he asked. “If it is, what happens when someone’s immigration status changes between when they applied for a license and when election day rolls around? These were all issues that weren’t really discussed during the process.”
Lingamfelter’s bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously, and was approved in the Senate by a 25-14 vote.
Both chambers also passed an identical proposal carried in the Senate by Sen. Ken T. Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax.
Kaine also amended that bill to eliminate DMV involvement.
Lawmakers will convene in Richmond on Wednesday to vote on the governor’s vetoes and amendments to bills.
Lingamfelter can move to pass the bill, notwithstanding the governor’s amendments. That would require two-thirds approval from the Senate and the House.
The delegate can also request the amendments be rejected, in which case the bill goes back to the governor in its original condition. Kaine can then veto it, sign it into law or not act on the bill and it automatically becomes law.
The delegate wants to come to an understanding with the governor before the session reconvenes Wednesday, he said.
“It’s my sincere hope that in the next two days he and I can talk and resolve his concerns such that he can recede from his amendment,” Lingamfelter said. “That’s the path we should take. I think it would be a good example for folks to work in a cooperative way.”
But, as of Monday, Lingamfelter still had no response from Kaine.
“I know that we received the letter, I don’t know if the governor has read it yet,” Hall said. “I certainly haven’t.”