Hoover Daily Report

Were the Hijackers Registered to Vote?

Monday, October 29, 2001

In the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in American history, the media have noted how easily the terrorists blended into our open society. They joined health clubs, rented cars, got pilot training, patronized neighborhood bars, obtained credit cards, and moved about freely, without anyone noticing that they were planning a heinous crime or that some were on the FBI's terrorism watch list.

When they bought their one-way tickets to California, the hijackers identified themselves with a driver's license, as most people do. News reports indicated that most obtained their drivers' licenses in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Florida. Thus far, no reporter has observed that the hijackers were eligible to vote in state and federal elections, despite the fact that they were not American citizens.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the motor-voter law) requires that states permit anyone who gets a driver's license to register to vote at the same time. Usually, applicants who register to vote are asked to affirm (without any proof) that they are citizens. Because state motor vehicle bureaus do not have the capability to check applicants' citizenship status, most freely grant drivers' licenses and register voters without regard to citizenship status. Some states have knowingly issued drivers' licenses to tens of thousands of noncitizens. No one knows how many ineligible noncitizens may be registered to vote across the nation as a result of this process.

Most other democratic nations require their citizens to identify themselves before voting, but most of our states do not. Only fourteen states require voters to produce some form of identification. In some states, a sufficient ID may be a driver's license, a student ID, or even a hunting license, all of which are available to noncitizens. To protect the sanctity of the franchise, potential voters should be required to present proof of citizenship when they register and proof of identity when they vote.

There is no evidence that voter turnout would be reduced by requiring people to identify themselves, both when registering to vote and when actually voting. Americans expect to identify themselves when boarding airplanes or buying alcohol or collecting government benefits. To date, Congress has been unconcerned about this large loophole that allows noncitizens to exercise the precious right of voting.

It is highly unlikely that voters would object to identifying themselves as eligible citizens when exercising the most fundamental of our rights, the right to participate in selecting those who govern us.

As the events of the past few weeks show, Americans are a resilient people, zealous about protecting our constitutional rights—none of which would be undermined by restricting the franchise to eligible citizens. Indeed, that restriction is already written into our Constitution. It is time to tighten up the motor-voter act and make sure that only qualified American citizens vote in our elections.