In the Tribune today, “Illinois priest nearing citizenship now faces deportation. Because he mistakenly voted.” (Mini-rant: I’m getting really tired of these multi-sentence headlines.)
The Rev. David Boase, an Episcopalian priest who came to Illinois from England 14 years ago, is headed towards being deported as a consequence of having admitted, in the process of applying for citizenship, that, back in 2006, he had voted.
Boase, who migrated 14 years ago to Illinois to serve Episcopal churches, told USCIS he was unaware at the time that only citizens can cast ballots in federal elections. Moreover, Boase said he agreed to register while obtaining his driver’s license at a state Department of Motor Vehicles office, after presenting his British passport as identification.
A DMV supervisor directed him to sign up to become a voter.
Boase said he was unaware that non-citizens were ineligible to vote, but was told shortly after and accordingly only voted the single time.
So, yes, it raises the question of how punitive the government should be to someone who voluntarily discloses having voted, especially in the context of so many people who are here illegally who are given indefinite deportation deferrals. Of course, at the same time, this is not a case where he will be experiencing substantial hardship — yes, the cost of living is higher in England, though presumably he has some fairly reasonable mix of UK- and US-based retirement income.
But this is hardly the first instance of a non-American voting, then saying, “I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed.” And an individual obtaining a license using a British passport should certainly never be able to register, and if the combination of the efforts to streamline vote registration via “motor voter” laws, and the emphasis at the DMV/or Secretary of State on giving everyone driver’s licenses regardless of legal status, and the general reputation of those workers for not being the sharpest tools in the shed, has produced this as an outcome, leaving an otherwise-educated man thinking, “huh, in the UK you can only vote if you’re a citizen; I guess things work differently here in the U.S.” — well, then we have a problem.
Strictly speaking, the penalty for voting as a noncitizen is up to a year in prison. Yes, it would appear that this isn’t actually enforced.
But is it just for the federal government (via motor voter) and the state government (via its implementation of the law) to create a set of circumstances in which it is so easy for individuals to unknowingly break the law?