Jessica Rocha, News & Observer (Raleigh), Dec. 7, 2006
Immigration agents checking voter registration records last month found at least four cases of noncitizens in North Carolina who they say illegally registered to vote.
Three of the people have been arrested, and officials are looking for the fourth.
Agents recently added more public records — including voter registration — to the list of databases they routinely check during investigation. They only do this for people already flagged for investigation, including people suspected of being here illegally, as well as legal residents seeking citizenship. So far, about 50 people in 31 North Carolina counties have been looked into this way.
Registering to vote often requires a person to swear he or she is a U.S. citizen, and it’s a federal crime for noncitizens to lie to officials about their legal status.
“If you are in this country illegally, you are likely to do things to stay below the radar,” said election law expert Richard Hasen, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “Walking in and committing a felony for no personal gain is not a wise choice.”
In North Carolina, Johnnie McLean, the State Board of Elections chief deputy director, remembers one case of a noncitizen voting a couple of years ago, and it was a misunderstanding. “He just honestly did not know,” she said.
That is what lawyers for the two immigrants facing criminal charges related to voter registration argued could have happened to their clients.
One of them, Mahmoud “Mike” Alkurdasi, has lived legally in North Carolina since the early 1990s. He owns about 20 Subways and is a substantial landowner in Cumberland County.
According to State Board of Elections records, he is a registered Republican, though he has never voted.
Attorney Mary Jude Darrow said her client doesn’t remember registering and had even been told he would be permitted to become a naturalized citizen.
David Muhemedy, 22, also was charged with felonies related to registering to vote. A registered Democrat, he did vote in the 2004 presidential election.
He could spend years in prison before being deported to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country he left when he was 6 years old, according to court documents.
Muhemedy’s mother brought him and his sister, Grace, to the United States, according to court records. The family requested and was denied asylum, and was ordered deported in 1995, when Muhemedy was 11.
During a hearing in November, Assistant Federal Public Defender Devon Donahue argued that Muhemedy might not have known he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.
Ease of registration
Voter registration laws in most parts of the country don’t require written proof of citizenship.
In North Carolina, people check a box and sign a “Voter Declaration,” which certifies under penalty of perjury that a person is a U.S. citizen, among other things.
It is so easy to register that Attracta Kelly of the Immigrant Legal Assistance Project at the N.C. Justice Center warns clients against even taking the form when going to the Division of Motor Vehicles office because it could hurt their chances of ever getting citizenship.
“Especially if they don’t speak English very well. They just think it’s a part of their [driver’s license] test,” she said. “It’s handed oftentimes to people who are just legal residents.”
Easy registration was meant not to exclude anyone eligible to vote from casting ballots.
But Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that testified in June about the threat of illegal immigrants influencing elections, said other countries have some kind of voter verification procedure.
“There’s nothing wrong with asking people to go through a little bit of effort to avoid fraud,” he said.
When registering to vote in North Carolina, one must check a box attesting to being a United States citizen.
Then, the person must sign and date a Voter Declaration:
“I certify under penalty of perjury that 1) I am a United States Citizen, 2) I am or will be a resident of North Carolina and the county for 30 days before the election in which I may vote, 3) I am or will be at least 18 years of age by the date of the next general election, 4) I am not a convicted felon, or if so, my citizenship rights have been restored, and 5) I am not registered to vote in any other county or state.”
N.C. VOTER REGISTRATION APPLICATION NORTH CAROLINA CASES
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has found at least four noncitizens in North Carolina who have registered to vote.
DAVID MUYUMBA MUHEMEDY, 22, arrived in the United States in 1990 from Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Muhemedy registered to vote twice in 2004, at least once at the state Division of Motor Vehicles, and voted in the 2004 presidential election.
GRACE MUHEMEDY, 24, arrived in the United States at the same time as her younger brother, David. She registered to vote in 2001, outside of the statute of limitations to charge her criminally, but has never voted. She was arrested earlier this month and is being held, with her mother, in a Charlotte jail on a deportation order.
MAHMOUD “MIKE” BELAL ALKURDASI, 39, is a U.S. permanent resident. He was born in Kuwait but is a citizen of Jordan. He entered the United States in 1993. He registered to vote in 1996 in Cumberland County as a Republican but has never voted. Those charges weren’t prosecuted because they fall outside the statute of limitations. Then in 2003, Alkurdasi applied for citizenship and signed a statement swearing he had never falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen.
FAZAL KHAN, 42, is originally from Pakistan. He was ordered deported in 2001. He registered through the DMV to vote in Rockingham County in 1999. ICE won’t charge him with a crime because the statute of limitations on the charges has passed, but the agency is looking for him to remove him from the country.
IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT INTERVIEWS AND U.S. DISTRICT COURT AFFIDAVITS, STATE DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES, STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS WEB SITE