UPDATE: Secretary of State Responds to Allegations of Possible Voter Suppression
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray illegally told county clerks to deny the right to vote to certain naturalized citizens until they can provide proof of citizenship, according to two advocacy groups.
However, Secretary of State Ed Murray responded that his office has the responsibility to cross-check data that conflicts with voter poll books to determine voter eligibility.
But Brianna Jones, executive director of the Laramie-based Equality State Policy Center, said Murray's response does not deal with the basic allegations of unconstitutionality.
"This violates the U.S. Constitution by treating a certain group of citizens differently based on their national origin," Jones said.
"It imposes an unlawful, what we call, poll tax for those that don't have these certificates, which can both cost money and take sometimes up to a year to a year to receive," Jones said Friday.
"It imposes an undue burden on the right to vote, both for people that can't get to the county clerk's office perhaps because they're elderly or have disabilities, and due to the wait times to get one of these documents," she said.
The ESPC and the American Civil Liberties Union have written a letter asking Secretary of State Ed Murray to cease-and-desist from imposing these requirements.
"This policy unconstitutionally targets voters based solely on the fact that they may have once been noncitizens when they applied for a Wyoming driver's license," according to the letter.
"But it is not unusual for a noncitizen to apply for a Wyoming driver's license and then later become a naturalized citizen and register to vote, especially when driver's licenses for resident aliens last up to 10 years," Jones wrote.
"Your office must also consider the impact of county clerks sending confusing, intimidating letters to newly naturalized citizens that baselessly accuse them of being noncitizens, and which suggest that they will be in trouble if they attempt to exercise their fundamental right to vote," Jones wrote. "Fearing legal consequences, many of these voters may simply give up voting rather than comply with this onerous and unconstitutional requirement."
But with no apparent resolution in sight, the two organizations decided to go public the Friday before the general election Tuesday, she said.
Whether the organizations will file legal action remains to be seen, Jones said.
Jones did not know how many people are affected by this. She has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the 23 county clerks, and has heard from some of them.
Natrona County Clerk Renea Vitto, who had not responded to the ESPC's and ACLU's request, said there are 40 in Natrona County.
Vitto said the county clerks did not like getting such a request to ask voters for extra identification.
The fault lies with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which works with the Secretary of State's Office to compile the voter database, she said.
If WYDOT's list of naturalized citizens who recently received driver's licenses had been up to date, this problem would not exist, Vitto said.
A WYDOT spokeswoman referred questions to the Secretary of State.
Friday afternoon, Secretary of State Ed Murray issued this press release:
Earlier today, there was hand delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office a “cease and desist” letter from ACLU and Equality State Policy Center asserting that the Secretary of State’s verification of citizenship is discriminatory. The Secretary of State’s Office immediately referred the “cease and desist” to the Wyoming Attorney General for review on the merits.
“It is my responsibility as Wyoming’s Chief Election Official to uphold the law that only eligible Citizens of the United States be allowed to cast a ballot. When Wyoming’s County Clerks and I are faced with voter eligibility cross-check data that conflicts with voter poll books as to a person’s eligibility (whether for citizenship, felony, or deceased status), we will not ignore our responsibility to reconcile the conflict. With respect to the citizenship cases in question, we’ve worked proactively and diligently to determine any conflict with the hope of resolving any problems in advance of a person’s arrival at the polling place. For this reason, we believe that most of these individuals have responded very positively, understanding the situation and willing to update their documentation and clarify their citizenship. I reiterate that nobody who is an eligible citizen is being denied the opportunity to vote,” said Secretary Murray.
The Secretary of State’s Office verifies voter registration data with the following Wyoming Departments: WYDOT; Division of Criminal Investigation; Department of Health; and the Department of Corrections. Through this verification process, every voter registration is matched against each of these databases to effectively determine voter eligibility and prevent fraudulent registrations by felons, deceased persons, or non-citizens.
“The State of Wyoming takes the voting rights of all of its citizens very seriously. If any voter in Wyoming, for any reason, encounters an issue at their polling location that voter is encouraged to contact our office or their County Clerk who can provide the necessary assistance,” said State Election Director Kai Schon. “No qualified voter will knowingly be denied their constitutional right to exercise their electoral franchise to vote for the candidate of their choosing.”