On Tuesday, Senator Ryan McDougle attempted to push forward SB 878, a voter registration bill that noted that a person who isn’t a U.S. citizen isn’t entitled to vote and anyone who helped a non-citizen register to vote could be found guilty of a Class 6 felony.
McDougle said this issue was brought to him by a constituent who reviewed the Constitution and found that there was no crime for this action. That constituent noticed that there were laws in other states to address it, the senator said.
“In the Constitution, it says you cannot register to vote if you are not a citizen, but it does not establish a criminal penalty for that. So, this bill would establish the criminal penalty for what our Constitution says you cannot do,” McDougle told members of the Privileges and Elections Committee Tuesday.
In response to a question from Senator R. Creigh Deeds about whether it’s an offense to falsely state you’re a citizen to register to vote, McDougle said he believes it is an offense to make a false statement on that type of form.
“But this bill goes farther than that and talks about… to procure, assist or induce another. So, it is not only the individual that makes the false statement…” He explained that “if somebody induced somebody," this proposed law would apply to the aided as well.
“Clearly you’d have the evidentiary burden to establish that they knew that the person was not [a citizen] but those are the other elements,” said McDougle.
It was later confirmed that it in a situation where a person who isn’t a citizen makes a false statement to vote, it is already a Class 5 felony.
Senator Jennifer McClellan asked about instances where language interpreting help or assistance to the blind is required. If a person helped someone who turned out not to be a citizen, could the person who helped be charged with a felony, she asked.
“Government has wild latitude to charge. So, I would never say the government could not charge something ever. But the government would have to prove that that individual knew that such person is not a citizen,” McDougle replied.
Deeds asked if you can already prosecute someone for a Class 5 felony for falsely filling out the forms can’t the person who assists with that also be charged with a felony. “And if we’re doing that, aren’t we dumbing down the penalty on that from a Class 5 to a Class 6?”
McDougle said he would have to think about that. He said you see accessory-after-the-fact but you don’t normally accessory-before-the-fact in that way. “I’ve just not seen any accessory charged in that way in my 25-plus year history on both sides of prosecuting and defending."
The committee voted 9 to 5 to pass by SB 878 indefinitely, making it a failed bill.
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