Editorial: Don't sacrifice vote integrity for licenses

The Detroit News

Lawmakers considering legislation to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants here illegally must first address concerns that the law doesn’t become a gateway to other rights — including voting — that they aren’t entitled to given their illegal status.

Since under Michigan law most residents are automatically registered to vote when they get a driver’s license, this could potentially become a major issue.

Last week, the Michigan State Board of Education adopted a resolution in support of the legislation, which would give people who entered the country illegally a path to obtaining personal identification cards and driver’s licenses.

About 150 protesters march on West Vernor in southwest Detroit on May 1 to demand driver's licenses for  immigrants who entered the country illegally.

The board, with a 6-2 Democratic majority, made the case that it’s important for all parents — including those here illegally — to be able to legally drive their children to school. 

The Democratic-supported “Drive SAFE/Licenses for All” bills, introduced in November in the House and Senate, may not have much of a chance right now with Republicans heading committees. But don't expect the issue to go away.

There are valid safety reasons for passing this legislation, which would give unlicensed drivers who may otherwise drive illegally, risking public safety, the opportunity and obligation to study the rules of the road, learn to drive properly and obtain insurance.

Michigan would be the 16th state to pass such legislation, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Before these bills gain any traction, however, protections against voter fraud must be addressed.

A Michigan Department of State spokesman says Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is prioritizing the integrity of Michigan’s voter rolls. Certainly, making sure non-citizens don’t vote is part of that mission. 

Jake Rollow, director of communications for Benson, says Michigan already has a process in place that has been used to license and ID non-citizens here legally, such as those with Green Cards or worker visas.

He says that after automatic voter registration took effect in 2019, the state began adding new checks to make sure that individuals who registered to vote are actual citizens.

“Should there be another category of people who are non-citizens who have legal presence and if the law were to change to give them access to driver’s licenses we would very likely handle them in the same process,” Rollow says.

But there’s currently no process in place to deal with those who can’t prove legal presence, Rollow acknowledges.

Rollow adds there have been cases of non-citizens getting on voter rolls, either intentionally or accidentally. The office is working to fix those errors, he says. 

Before individuals who are here illegally are given the right to a driver's license, the state must put foolproof safeguards in place against voter fraud.