Non-American citizens are increasingly found on voter rolls thanks to covert registration methods, with nothing actually stopping them from casting a ballot in an election.
Elizaveta Shuvalova, a Russian citizen who became a U.S. citizen only last year, was registered as an eligible voter in 2012 and added to the San Francisco voter rolls, the Washington Times reported.
She was perplexed to find herself in the voter rolls, saying she wasn’t an American citizen and didn’t even register to vote.
“I’ve never registered for anything in my entire life,” Shuvalova told the paper. “This is news to me.”
“I’ve never registered for anything in my entire life. This is news to me.”
The woman’s voter log shows that she signed up as a Democrat in July 2012. In 2016, her registration was canceled after she informed election authorities that she wasn't eligible to vote because she wasn't yet a U.S. citizen.
“This is definitely a shocker to me. It is like an identity fraud because this is not coming from my end,” the woman, who identifies as a Democrat, said. “Like I told you, I haven’t even been a citizen during that time frame. So what can we do about it?”
But the case of Shuvalova is part of a larger concern some groups have when it comes integrity of elections. They claim that stories like hers are a common occurence in many parts of the country.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a nonprofit specializing in election integrity, found that non-Americans are being added to voter rolls in states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia.
The group says that a large portion of the non-citizens even managed to cast their ballots in elections as well. For instance, in 2017, the group found that nearly 5,600 people on the voter rolls in Virginia were deemed as non-citizens, with a third of them voting in previous elections.
"Our voter registration system masks non-citizens and allows the opportunity to vote until they decide to self-report at their own peril. All of this could have been prevented if states actually verified citizen eligibility upfront."
“Our voter registration system masks non-citizens and allows the opportunity to vote until they decide to self-report at their own peril. All of this could have been prevented if states actually verified citizen eligibility upfront,” Logan Churchwell, communications and research director for the foundation, told the Times.
Shuvalova could have been added on voter rolls after signing a 2013 petition for a ballot initiative concerning housing development in San Francisco.
John Arntz, director of the San Francisco Department of Elections, told the Times that a signed registration card was submitted to the office to qualify the woman as a signer of the petition. He added that activists often distribute registration cards along with their petitions.
Normally, election authorities should check the registration application with other databases such as the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and the secretary of state’s office to ensure the person is a citizen.
In Shuvalova’s case, however, she wasn’t detected as a non-citizen and she began receiving voting ballots. She received nine of them, but never actually voted. She reportedly returned one ballot in 2016 but only to inform officials that she wasn't a citizen and therefore wasn't eligible to vote.
The San Francisco election official said that Shuvalova could have easily gotten away with voting in elections before 2016 and she probably would have remained on the voter rolls as an eligible voter had she not informed officials.
But Arntz told the Times that the woman’s story isn’t a reflection on whole the integrity of the election system.
“If it was a problem, this would be an issue that comes up every election or something we would have experienced more through time. But it doesn’t,” he said.
“This is the first instance that I’ve actually had a conversation like this,” he continued. “So, no, I don’t think it is a problem. I don’t think there’s many records out there like this.”
He added that nobody in San Francisco has yet been prosecuted for being a non-citizen on the voter rolls.
“I can’t remember forwarding an allegation that someone was a non-citizen who registered to vote or did vote,” Arntz said.