Bill would authorize, require Oklahoma election board to periodically check voters’ U.S. citizenship status

State election board officials told The Frontier they do not know how feasible the bill's directive would be.

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DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
In what Rep. Sean Roberts described as an attempt to restore faith in the electoral process, the Republican lawmaker from Hominy has proposed a bill that would authorize and require the state to periodically check the citizenship status of all registered voters in Oklahoma.

The bill passed the House with a 66-26 vote on Tuesday evening and will next be considered by the state Senate.

However, an Oklahoma State Election Board official said while non-citizen voter registration happens occasionally, the agency does not consider it a widespread problem in the state. At the same time, officials said they are not sure how feasible the bill’s directive would be.

House Bill 2429, in its current form, would authorize the election board to use federal and state databases to check the citizenship of registered voters. A voter alleged to be a noncitizen would be reported to the district attorney in the county they are registered to vote in. The district attorney would then have 60 days to investigate and report the findings to the state election board.

Roberts’ bill would also then require the Oklahoma State Election Board to audit its database of registered voters at least once every two years to verify U.S. citizenship, with the first review to occur by June 30, 2020.

Additionally, the agency would be required to compile an annual report on its finding and present them to the governor, president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House.

Paul Ziriax, secretary of the Oklahoma State Election Board, said agency staff find around five to 10 non-citizens who are registered to vote each year

“Although I personally do not believe this is a widespread problem in our state, it does happen occasionally,” Ziriax wrote in an emailed statement.

“While House Bill 2429 is not a State Election Board request bill, it would give our agency the authority to determine if data is available that could be used to confirm that only citizens of the United States are registered to vote in Oklahoma.”

While presenting the bill for a vote on the House floor on Tuesday evening, Roberts said if a voter’s citizenship was flagged, their voter registration would not be automatically terminated, but would be further investigated.

Asked by another representative what factors might lead to a registered voter being flagged as a non-citizen, Roberts said “if they’re not in the database as a citizen.” Though he did not specify a database, he said choosing databases would be up to the election board.

Election board spokeswoman Misha Mohr said agency officials do not know what databases would be used.

“That is what we don’t know,” Mohr said. “We don’t know what resources are actually out there. … We’re not really sure what’s at our disposal and how much it would cost, if it would be feasible.”

Roberts did not return a phone call from The Frontier seeking additional comment.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Roberts said the bill would “help restore faith in the electoral process by verifying only those prescribed by law are voting.”

“Our democracy is based on the principle of each citizen having one vote, and this bill is another safeguard to protect the integrity of elections within our state,” he wrote.

Roberts, while on the House floor, said it is unknown how many non-citizens are registered to vote in Oklahoma.

State election board officials in 2017 conducted a query into voting fraud attempts into the 2016 presidential election and found one non-citizen in Kay County who attempted to register to vote. However, no charges were filed.

The board found 17 other alleged attempts of illegal voting, which came from Oklahomans who tried to vote twice, records showed. More than 1.4 million Oklahomans voted in that election (with 18 findings about .001 percent of the votes were found to be allegedly fraudulent).

No charges were filed in those cases, either.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler told The Frontier at the time that the double voters were not prosecuted mainly because of the age of those voters.

For example, in Canadian County, a man with dementia voted once by mail and then tried to vote again in person. And that same year, an elderly Delaware County man voted absentee and tried to again vote in person.

The state election board oversaw the query following a request from three Democratic U.S. Congress members who were seeking tallies of illegal votes from all 50 states.

President Donald Trump’s election fraud commission asked every state for detailed voter registration data. Trump created the commission in May 2017 after assertions, which were presented without evidence, that he lost the 2016 popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton because of millions of illegal votes. Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.

The commission, which was led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, was disbanded early last year after it was mired in lawsuits and received pushback from states over the voter data requests.

More than 2.1 million people are registered to vote in Oklahoma, according to the state election board. When registering, Oklahomans must take an “oath” that they are U.S. citizens. It is a felony to submit false information on the form, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or fined up to $50,000.

Other states that have conducted checks into there voter registration databases have found little evidence of non-citizen voters, and researchers have found noncitizen voting is rare.

Texas recently flagged thousands of registered voters for citizen checks. However officials there walked back some of the claims, stating they are unsure whether the people on the list should be there. The review has triggered an outbreak of litigation.

Correction: Due to a source error, an earlier version of this article stated Rep. Sean Roberts did not work with the election board on the language of the bill. The story has been corrected. 

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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