Using DHS Database to Support Voter ID is Risky

The immigration database was never intended to verify voter rolls.

The Homeland Security Department’s decision to grant Florida access to a federal database to assist with the states’ voter verification efforts raises a number of important issues.

According to a report in the New York Times:

The decision by the Department of Homeland Security, which came after efforts by the Obama administration to block access, was issued in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and made public on Saturday. Mr. Scott, along with the state’s Republicans, had been pushing for months to gain access to the database, which is maintained by the department, arguing that it would allow for a more accurate review of voter lists.

Florida’s past attempt at voter verification relied on a system that compared drivers’ license numbers with registration records. This effort ran aground as discrepancies within the system disallowed many voters, including at least one World War II veteran, according to the Miami Herald. Several other states, including Colorado, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina, also could follow Florida and seek access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database, according to CNN.  

For all the controversy that surrounds the issue of voter-ID laws, this is a particularly unusual decision. The SAVE database was not intended to verify voter rolls; it was created to make sure officials could verify immigration status for legal immigrants, like green card holders, so that they could receive entitlement benefits. The primary people in this database are legal immigrants to the United States who wouldn’t have been eligible to vote in an election. It’s unclear how officials intend to use the database or what the implementation scheme will be so close to the November election.

It’s also a risky strategy for both the federal and state governments so close to the November election.

A 2009 report for Homeland Security prepared by research firm Westat showed that the department’s E-Verify system was prone to overall inaccuracy rates of 6 percent to 7 percent. The inaccuracy rates were even higher under different scenarios. For a battleground state that is a looking to be one of the more competitive in the coming election, the inaccuracy rates fall within the margin of error, something that has the potential to shape the election outcome. Just for reference, the Times reported that Florida’s last exercise in assessing voter eligibility found 107 individuals illegally registered to vote out of a list of nearly 182,000.