SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A lawsuit claiming California enables voter fraud by failing to investigate voters' citizenship status was denounced by the state's top elections official Tuesday as an attempt to import Republican-led "voter suppression" tactics to California.
Three Republican voters sued California Secretary of State Alex Padilla Tuesday, accusing the state of operating its “motor voter” program in a way that violates federal law. The program automatically registers driver's license applicants to vote unless they opt out. The plaintiffs say the state has "no procedure in place" to determine if those who identify themselves as citizens on driver's license applications are actually citizens.
"In direct violation of his duties to ensure that only eligible voters are placed on the voter rolls, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has established a pattern and practice of doing nothing to verify that a potential voter is a United States citizen, thus causing noncitizens to be placed on the voter rolls," the Republican voters said in their 20-page complaint.
The National Voting Rights Act "requires Padilla to guarantee that only eligible citizens are registered to vote," the complaint states.
Padilla called the lawsuit a "fundamental misrepresentation" of the National Voting Rights Act in a statement Tuesday.
"Plaintiffs claim they are protecting voters, but this is nothing more than an underhanded attempt to bring their voter suppression playbook to California," Padilla said.
Padilla cited efforts to purge potential noncitizens from voter rolls in Texas and Kansas as evidence that such efforts are more about suppressing votes than stopping fraud. In June 2018, a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional a Kansas law that required voters to prove their citizenship.
In February 2019, another federal judge blocked Texas officials from purging nearly 100,000 names from voter rolls based on suspicions that they were noncitizens.
"These efforts only serve to disenfranchise thousands of eligible citizens," Padilla said.
Lead plaintiff Roxanne Hoge, of Los Angeles, disagrees with Padilla's interpretation of the push to require more robust voter eligibility verification. She and her co-plaintiffs sent a letter to Padilla in May 2019 demanding the secretary make several changes to bring California's motor voter program into compliance with federal law.
The plaintiffs asked Padilla to start obtaining citizenship documentation from the Department of Motor Vehicles, cross check voter registrations with state databases and update state policies with new procedures for verifying voter eligibility.
Padilla responded in an August 2019 letter stating he does not believe the state's current policies violate federal law, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks a court order directing Padilla to develop and implement a program to ensure only eligible applicants may register to vote in California.
Hoge's co-plaintiffs include Ali Mazarei of Riverside County and Corrin Rankin of San Mateo County.
They are represented by attorney Harmeet Dhillon, of San Francisco.