Citizen check proposed for Washington voter registration

The secretary of state pointed to questions that have been raised about the citizenship of the man charged in the shooting deaths of five people at a Burlington mall.

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Legislation requiring Washington state residents to prove U.S. citizenship or legal residency to get state driver’s licenses so elections officials can ensure non-citizens are not trying to register to vote has been proposed by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

The issue has come up in previous legislative sessions, but lawmakers have been unsuccessful in passing legislation.

On Friday, Wyman pointed to questions that have been raised about the citizenship of Arcan Cetin, who is charged with five counts of premeditated murder following the shooting deaths of five people at Cascade Mall in Burlington on Sept. 23.

Wyman said Cetin, who registered to vote in 2014, voted in three elections.

Federal officials told The Associated Press last week they wouldn’t comment publicly on the immigration status of Cetin, who emigrated from Turkey as a young boy.

Wyman wrote that the questions about his citizenship “shined a bright light on the fact that under current state law, as election administrators, we are not able to confirm the citizenship of any registered voter.”

Washington state is currently not in compliance with a 2005 federal law — known as REAL ID — that requires state driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they’re legally in the United States.

Washington is the only state in the country that does not require proof of legal presence in the U.S. to get a standard state driver’s license or ID, and there is currently no way for elections officials to verify citizenship.

However, the state does offer, voluntarily and at an extra cost, enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under federal law.

Nearly 30 states and U.S. territories are not in compliance with REAL ID, but federal agencies can continue accepting licenses from those states because they have been granted extensions by the federal government.

Washington is one of just three states and a U.S. territory that are out of compliance and do not have extensions from the federal government.

Lawmakers have struggled to reach agreement on the issue as a 2018 deadline that would require the state’s residents to show additional identification if they want to board a commercial aircraft looms.

But if the state Legislature approves a REAL ID bill this year and receives an extension from the federal government, residents will have until 2020 before needing additional documentation to fly.

Currently there’s not a bill, but spokesman David Ammons said Wyman hopes that key lawmakers who have long worked on this issue will have something to introduce when the Legislature convenes in January.

Wyman, joined by county election leaders, announced the proposal in Spokane. The package would also allow for automatic voter registration for people who present citizen verification when they get their license, as is done in Oregon.

Voters in Washington would be able to opt out of automatic registration under the proposal. Wyman called her proposal “long overdue.”

“Our current laws are not working the way we need them to,” Wyman said in a statement.

Wyman, a Republican, is in a tough race as she seeks a second term.

Her Democratic opponent, Tina Podlodowski, issued a statement noting that lawmakers from both parties have been working on the issue for years “with Wyman sitting on the sidelines.”

“Only now, after a recent tragedy, is she stepping forward to score political points,” Podlodowski wrote.

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