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Kentucky election officials say noncitizens aren’t voting in the state

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Kentucky election officials say noncitizens aren’t voting in the state

Jun 18, 2024 | 2:40 pm ET
By McKenna Horsley
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Kentucky election officials say noncitizens aren’t voting in the state
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Kentuckians will vote on two constitutional amendments in November, one specifying that only U.S. citizens can vote in state elections. Above, a woman and child studied the primary election ballot at a poll in Bowling Green, May 21, 2024. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Kentucky election officials on Tuesday told lawmakers they know of no instances of noncitizens having voted in Kentucky. Nonetheless, Kentucky is among a number of states where voters in November will be asked to ban noncitizens from voting in elections. 

Kentucky election officials say noncitizens aren’t voting in the state
Michael Adams. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Matthew Mueller)

The officials, including Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, also described existing safeguards to ensure that only U.S. citizens cast ballots. They spoke during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government, whose main agenda item was “Kentucky Agencies and Illegal Immigration.” 

Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot specifying that noncitizens of the U.S. cannot vote in Kentucky. Similar measures will appear on the November ballot in Idaho, Missouri, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Republicans in Congress are pushing to require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Critics say the attention paid to something that rarely, if ever, happens is a political ploy to tap into anti-immigrant sentiment and motivate Republican voters. 

The proposed constitutional amendment to clarify that noncitizens of the U.S. cannot vote in Kentucky elections will appear on the November ballot alongside another — the amendment to allow the General Assembly to fund nonpublic schools, which was a Republican priority in this year’s legislative session. 

Though noncitizens can vote in few local elections, GOP goes big to make it illegal

Adams said election laws to prevent noncitizens from voting in U.S. elections have enjoyed “wide consensus.” He pointed to a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 that prohibited noncitizens from voting in federal elections.

“Kentucky’s Constitution implies — although it does not state — that noncitizens cannot vote in Kentucky’s state and local elections,” Adams said. 

He added that in his time as secretary of state, he had “seen no evidence that noncitizens have voted or attempted to vote in our elections, but that does not mean we should not be concerned about this issue and fail to take proper precautionary measures.” Adams was elected to a second term last year. 

Taylor Brown, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, said there are various steps in the voter registration process that deter noncitizens from registering. Anyone checking a box saying they aren’t a U.S. citizen is redirected to not register. Someone who lies or provides false information could face felony perjury charges. 

“In sum, (the) State Board of Elections cannot report any known encounters when an undocumented immigrant has successfully made it through the voter registration application process to become an active voter here in Kentucky,” Brown said. “That is not to say that it is impossible though.” 

Brown said a recent law passed by the legislature requires the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide various agencies, including the elections board, with a monthly list of people excused from jury duty for not being a U.S. citizen. A noncitizen found to have registered to vote would be purged from the voter roll and law enforcement could pursue criminal charges, such as perjury. 

Kentucky election officials say noncitizens aren’t voting in the state
Tabatha Clemons

Grant County Clerk Tabatha Clemons, president of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, said the group surveyed its members about cases of noncitizens successfully voting in Kentucky, but found none. 

“We had one county who reported having a person show up to vote who could not produce identification, and in turn, they were offered to go get identification or to have a hearing with the county board of elections — neither of which took place,” she said. 

Speaking about the voter registration process, Adams told lawmakers that Kentucky’s photo ID law was the “best tool in preventing noncitizen voting.” He added that he would support future legislation to allow the State Board of Elections to cross-reference Department of Motor Vehicle records with voter rolls to identify legal immigrants who may have registered to vote. 

In Kentucky, legal immigrants can get a driver’s license and would have a Social Security number to do so. A Social Security number is also needed to register to vote. 

“American elections are for American citizens,” Adams said. “Each of us takes an oath to support the Constitution of this commonwealth, and even now that constitution evinces a desire to prevent noncitizens from voting in Kentucky elections.”