JACKSON, Wyo.: The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office alerted county clerks to require an undetermined number of people to provide proof of citizenship before allowing them to vote, stirring anger from some who say it has deterred people from casting ballots.
State Election Director Kai Schon said some noncitizens can apply for driver’s licenses and that information did not make it into the voter registration system until recently, making it necessary to ask some people to show they are qualified to vote, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.
“Prior to this year, there was no means of validating whether or not individuals registering to vote with a Wyoming driver’s license were citizens or not,” Schon wrote in a letter to a critic.
The state alerted the Teton County Clerk’s Office to check 59 people early this year. The office has notified them to provide citizenship confirmation before they can vote in next month’s general election.
Schon did not say how many voters statewide were told to verify their status.
Isabel Zumel, an advocate for Teton County’s Latino community, has written to Secretary of State Ed Murray saying the move prevented some voting in the August primary election. She told Murray she knows of three people who received notice requiring them to provide proof of citizenship.
“One of the people got very upset,” Zumel told the newspaper. “I think it just made her so upset that she decided not to go forward and show the proof.”
The effort did not target a specific ethnicity, Teton County Clerk Sherry Daigle said, but she has received some angry calls from people who had received citizenship and had to go register to vote.
“It wasn’t singling any specific people out at all,” she said. “It wasn’t malicious in any means.”
The state used driver’s license information from the state Department of Transportation to identify people who were originally registered as non-residents, temporary aliens or resident aliens, Schon said.
The election director said some of the people on the lists may have subsequently become naturalized citizens. He said the state undertook the project to satisfy concerns of county clerks around the state that no non-citizens be allowed to vote, although he said he’s not aware that any has.
Carbon County Clerk Gwen Bartlett, president of the Wyoming County Clerk’s Association, said the verification effort was a joint project between the association and the state. She said a person who may be in the state for six months on a work visa can get a driver’s license.
“It’s really no different than a felon, if somebody had registered that was a felon, and our system does those checks to make sure that we don’t have felons on the roles, and then we notify them and say, `Hey, there’s a potential that you may be a match to a felon,”’ Bartlett said.
She said she believes her office notified about five people in Carbon County and hasn’t received any complaints.
Schon said the verification effort wasn’t intended to hurt or benefit any political party.
The secretary of state is a Republican, as are the other four statewide elected officials. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by roughly 154,000 to 44,000, according to the latest figures.
“In a state with a small population, and with outcomes of local elections having margins as slim as 10 or fewer votes, anything that impedes qualified voters from registering and voting is significant and can ultimately affect the outcome of local elections,” Zumel said in her letter to Murray. -AP