US House of Representatives passes bill to require citizenship verification for federal elections • South Dakota Searchlight

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that would require voters who register to vote to provide proof of citizenship in order to participate in federal elections.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 221 to 198, would also require states to check their voter rolls for registered noncitizens. Republican Dusty Johnson of South Dakota voted for the bill.

The Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act (SAVE) is designed to prohibit non-citizens from voting. This law is already illegal because current U.S. law allows only citizens to vote in federal elections, but the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 prohibits states from confirming citizenship status.

Voting laws vary from state to state. Some states, like Georgia and Wisconsin, require photo ID, while others, like Pennsylvania and New Mexico, require no documents at all.

More and more states are considering voter ID laws despite conflicting research on their effects

In states where photo ID or other documentation is required, driver's licenses, military IDs, student IDs, birth certificates, tribal IDs, or even a recent utility bill will suffice.

The SAVE Act, introduced in May by Chip Roy, a Republican representative from Texas, would require most people to have a passport to register to vote.

Only about 48 percent of U.S. citizens have a passport, according to U.S. State Department data. Driver's licenses and tribal identification cards are generally not proof of a person's citizenship and cannot be used to register under the SAVE Act.

The data also suggests that noncitizen voting is not a dominant issue, as many Republicans in the House have stated.

According to the Associated Press, states including North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, California and Texas audited their voter rolls between 2016 and 2022. Those audits found that fewer than 50 noncitizens voted in each state in the last election, even though more than 23 million votes were cast in each state.

It is unlikely that the measure will pass in the Democratic-dominated Senate.

Party political divide

Republicans in the House of Representatives strongly support Roy's bill, HR8281.

On the House floor on Wednesday, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson urged his colleagues to pass the bill, saying it was “one of the most important votes the members of this chamber will ever take in their entire careers.”

Last month, Johnson's office released a 22-page report claiming the SAVE Act was critical to the integrity of American elections.

Johnson accused the Democratic Party of keeping America's “borders wide open to every country on the planet” and claimed that Democrats “want illegal aliens to vote in our elections.”

On Monday, the Biden administration released a policy statement opposing the bill, saying there was no reason to be concerned about noncitizens voting because the bill would only affect the voting rights of eligible Americans.

Voting in South Dakota

Republican Dusty Johnson, South Dakota's only representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted for the bill.

“Since Joe Biden took office, millions of illegal immigrants have crossed our border – if they cast their vote, our electoral system would be seriously compromised,” he said in a press release. “We must protect this right and ensure election security. Allowing non-citizens to vote puts both goals at risk.”

Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, urged his colleagues in the House during debate on Wednesday to vote against the bill because it would have devastating consequences for all American voters.

“This bill is designed to terrify Americans, it is designed to silence Americans, it is designed to disempower Americans,” he said. “This bill is designed to further damage the foundations of our democracy.”

But House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil supported the bill during a Rules Committee hearing.

“Over the past few decades, Americans' faith in the integrity of our elections has eroded, and it is Congress's responsibility to restore faith in our election system,” said Steil, a Wisconsin Republican. “The SAVE Act would do just that.”

Louisiana Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise described the bill in a press conference on Monday as “a safeguard to ensure that only American citizens vote in American elections.”

Impact on the election

Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York alluded to the broader implications of the SAVE Act during Wednesday's floor debate, looking ahead to the November election and the possibility of a second term for President Joe Biden.

He said Republicans could use the bill “as a smokescreen and try to create a pretext now for what could happen in November.”

Voting rights activists have expressed concern about the SAVE Act, saying it contains many falsehoods and conspiracy theories that promote extreme views.

At a news conference on Tuesday hosted by America's Voice, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy organization, Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice said the bill addresses larger issues such as racism and xenophobia.

“It is also a very damaging lie with an ulterior motive: to lay the groundwork for a later challenge to legitimate election results,” he said.

One congressman compared the bill to a “Jim Crow poll tax” during the debate. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat from Virginia, said she was “not aware of a single certificate of citizenship that costs nothing to issue.”

Wesley Hunt, a Republican from Texas, responded: “Jim Crow is over.”

—South Dakota Searchlight staff contributed to this report.

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