Bill Sponsored by Gary MacLaren Would Put Non-Citizens Who Vote in Prison for Up to 10 Years

February 7, 2009Shahid Haque

As discussed in previous posts, Montana legislators have proposed a number of anti-immigrant bills that would require the state to step into the shoes of the federal government and enforce immigration laws.  One of the most pointless bill draft requests is LC0514, which is being sponsored by Gary MacLaren.  This bill would make it a felony for a non-citizen to register to vote in a state election

If a non-citizen registers to vote in an election, the court could sentence the individual for a “term not to exceed 10 years in the state prison or may fine the offender in an amount not to exceed $50,000 or may impose both such fine and imprisonment.”  MCA § 46-18-213.

The severe punishment imposed by this law is simply not warranted.  The proponents of this bill cannot point to any instances of voter fraud by non-citizens in the state of Montana that would justify imposing such a law. The Secretary of State has not spoken out in support of this bill, and I am not aware of any state or county election official who has stated that this law is necessary.

There are already harsh federal sanctions for any alien who makes a false claim to citizenship.  These sanctions are more than sufficient to deter a non-citizen from voting in a state election.

Under INA §237(a)(6) and INA § 212(a)(10)(D), an alien who unlawfully votes in any state, federal, or local election is removable from the country and barred from being admitted into the country. The only exception is where the alien’s parents were U.S. citizens, the person resided in the U.S. before age 16, and the person mistakenly believed that he or she was a U.S. citizen.  This is an extremely narrow exception designed to prevent unfair punishment of someone without wrongful intent.

In addition, under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(ii) and INA §237(a)(3)(D), any alien who falsely claims to be a U.S. citizen is removable from the country and barred from being admitted into the country.  Only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote, and under federal law an alien who votes in an election could be deemed to have made a false claim to U.S. citizenship.

This law unfairly singles out non-citizens who register to vote, while providing no criminal sanctions for other individuals who may not be qualified to vote.  If the sanctity of state elections requires criminal punishment for improper registration, then it should also be a felony if a person under the age of 18 registers to vote.

There appears to be no legitimate purpose to this bill, other than to further demonize non-citizens who reside in the state.

I urge you to contact your local representatives, as well as Mr. MacLaren, and voice your opposition to this absurd bill.

Advocating for immigrants.

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